Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4647
SOURCE: "Didactic Content of the 'Philosophic Voyage,'" in Gulliver's Travels: A Critical Study, Russell & Russell, 1963, pp. 40-50.
[In the essay below, first published in 1923 and reprinted in 1963, Eddy focuses on Swift's satiric, pessimistic, and misanthropic views in arguing the superiority of Gulliver's Travels over other contemporaneous texts employing the "voyage" motif]
Turning now from the story form of the Philosophic Voyage and from its interest as a romantic tale, let us examine the author's purpose in writing. In its fully developed form the Philosophic Voyage was always a vehicle for ideas, never an end in itself. Swift's avowed aim in writing Gulliver was "to vex, not to divert, the world"(1). The survey of the motives, satiric and philosophic, which run through the fore-runners of Gulliver must be here very brief. The four Voyages of Gulliver present so many different criticisms of life that it would be impossible to bring the study to a definite focus as was done with the narrative form. The distinct purpose and satiric method used by Swift in each voyage will be discussed later when the situations are studied in turn.
As has been already suggested, a number of the Fantastic Voyages, concerned themselves with fanciful, and wholly impossible, trips of exploration, in the interests of speculative science. Cyrano de Bergerac and his imitators(2) sent their travellers to the moon, the sun, or to the center of the earth, where conversation with the better informed inhabitants disclosed new theories about the constitution of matter, the laws of physics, and the habitation of the planets. In this connexion it is to be noted simply that this motive of scientific speculation is almost wholly absent from Gulliver(3).
Obviously the connection is to be sought, not in abstract philosophy but in satire. No one of the forerunners is so exclusively a work of satire as is Gulliver, and yet satire is usually included; sometimes it is incidental, again it is organic. In quality it ranges from the mild ridicule heaped upon the Lilliputians to the intense misanthropy represented in the picture of the Yahoos. It has been a notable blunder of criticism to suppose that the latter was peculiar to Swift. The satiric method employed by Swift's predecessors was almost invariably that of a contrast between the degenerate state of Western civilization, represented by the traveller, and the ideal life of the people visited. Gulliver's fourth voyage, to the land of the Houyhnhnms, and the latter portion of his second voyage, to Brobdingnag, conform to this type. It is not necessary to seek the elaboration of this method in the pure Utopian literature of Plato's Republic, Campanella's Civitas Solis, More's Utopia, or Bacon's New Atlantis. The ideal commonwealth appeared frequently in combination with imaginary adventures as in Gulliver. These ideal commonwealths are of two general types. A race, living in a state of innocence, is found to be the product of ideal government, unselfish customs, and benevolent religion, subject to the laws of charity and justice alone. Such are the Lunarians of Cyrano's first romance, L'Histoire Comique de la Lune, and the Potuans whom Klimius encounters underground. The satire in Voyages of this type is implied in the contrast with European practices, or it is brought out more directly by the surprise with which the natives receive the traveller's account of kings, priests, and lawyers, in his own world. On the whole, however, the stress is placed upon the objective description of the Utopia, in the organization of which there is a wearisome repetition of the formula, charity and justice, which shows the literature to be a phase of the deistic trend of contemporary thought(4).
A variation of this satiric method only a little less popular, is a contrast between European civilization and a superior race of animals, just as in the fourth voyage of Gulliver. Here the accent is shifted from the Utopian quality of the new civilization to a direct satire on mankind. This use of animals is much older than Aesop himself. In general, however, the fable literature, including the cycle of Reynard the Fox, presents an allegory in which the vices and foibles of the human race are identified with, or disguised under, the actions of the animals. For the contrast between man and beast, resulting in the humiliation of man, there was plenty of precedent. The tradition of Ulysses and the beasts(5), popularized by Giovanni Gelli in his Circe(6) and by Howell in the Parley of the Beasts(7), represents the beasts refusing to return to their human shape, and perfectly contented with their animal life. In d'Ablancourt's Sequel to Lucian's True History, and in Cyrano's second romance, L'Histoire comique du soleil, both known to Swift(8), the traveller finds himself despised by a race of animals who refuse to confirm his claim to the status of a reasonable creature. As will appear in my study of the sources, the satire on man in Cyrano is not less brutal than in Gulliver's fourth voyage.
According to Swift, Gulliver does not have to go to the moon, or to the center of the earth to find ideal beings. His travels are confined to this world, in the remote regions of which live the amiable Houyhnhnms and the gentle Brobdingnagians. It is a point very much to the credit of Swift that his ideal races are after all creatures of his imagination, giants and horses, and not natives of India or China. The Utopias of the Philosophic Voyages, the voluminous literature of the Oriental Traveller(9), of Montesquieu, DuFresne, Tom Brown, Lyttleton, and Goldsmith, all are marked by cheap sentimentality,—that of the "long distance" illusion. The Australian, Chinaman, Hindoo, or whatnot, is represented as nature's unspoiled child, a sort of Israelite in whom there is no guile, who cannot comprehend the diseases, tyrannies, and vices of the Christian world. The illusion seemed to spring from a theorem that virtue increased as the square of the distance from Europe. It is the sort of sentimentality familiar enough to us today in the writings of H. G. Wells(10) and in the pages of the so-called "liberal" magazines where we find it written that Trotsky of all statesmen is alone sincere, and China, an untainted nation of peaceable villages. It is the illusion which has started a wave of sympathy in favor of the "much abused" Turk, for the wrongs he has suffered at the hand of Christendom, a sympathy never felt by those who have lived under the shadow of the Crescent. From the charge of such nonsense, of which most of his predecessors were more or less guilty, the author of Gulliver can be acquitted.
In Gulliver another method is followed besides that of contrast between civilizations, and that is the allegorical device of representing the life of the Western world under a disguise. This is the case in Lilliput, Laputa, and the earlier chapters of Brobdingnag(11), where the animal called man is made to appear ridiculous, stupid, or disgusting. While this method of satire seems simple enough, it is exceedingly hard to manage, and was actually very rarely employed(12) in the Philosophic Voyage before Gulliver. Once made famous by Swift, the idea was copied in a dozen imitations(13), in which Lilliput was England; Blefuscu, Ireland; Flimnap, the prime minister; Nardac, a nobleman; and so forth.
Since Gulliver's Travels owed so much of its immediate popularity to this allegorical representation of human society, it will be of interest to notice two examples of it in the Philosophic Voyage before Swift. In Baron Holberg's Journey of Klimius to the World Underground, a work which Swift in all probability did not know(14), the traveller visits a number of subterranean countries, most of which are contrasted with our world, but two of which are identified with conditions above ground. Lalac is a land inhabited by an idle aristocracy, whose uninterrupted luxury is attended by consequent misery(15). This is very obviously a picture of court life in Europe. Mascathia is the land of the philosophers. The country is filthy and uncultivated, the philosophers are indistinguishable from pigs. So busy have they been in devising a way to reach the sun and the stars, that they have had no time to improve their own world. To the traveller's practical questions they return absurd and incoherent answers. The author makes it plain that Mascathia is a satire upon academicians, of the same type that we find in Gulliver's voyage to Laputa(16).
Another instance of this satiric method is to be found in an obscure Latin satire by Joseph Hall, Mundus Alter et Idem(17), which has never been mentioned in connection with Gulliver, even though, as I shall show in the next chapter, it is not unlikely that it was known to Swift. This work, written about the year 1610, is the reverse of the Utopia. The author embarks on the good ship Phantasy for a new world located somewhere in Australia, which is conceived of as the duplicate of the Western world, except that the vices and weaknesses of human nature are assigned to separate provinces instead of being spread out over the entire country as in Europe. As the satire has never been translated in full, and is practically unknown, I will give a brief account of it to bring out the unique relation which it bears to the satiric method of Swift in a part of Gulliver's Travels.
The first country to be visited is Crapula, the land of inebriate excess. It is divided into two provinces, Pamphagonia (or Gluttony) and Yvronia (or Drunkenness). In the capital cities, Livona and Roncara (Snort and Snore), the people sleep continually. The natives are all monks who worship their God, Time, because he eats everything. Adjacent to Crapula is the desert Terra Sancta (Holy Land) which is uninhabited and unexplored. Moronia (Foolsland) is at once the most populous and the most uncultivated of all. There the natives go about naked in winter that the warmth may enter their bodies readily, whereas in mid-summer they wear heavy coats to shut out the heat. Moronia is inhabited by a stupid Philistine class who are subject to the rule of the aristocratic Laverians, or thieves. In Moronia there is an academy of innovators, not unlike the one visited by Gulliver at Lagado, where the single idea is to invent something new, no matter how useless it may be. The innovators have replaced language by a mystical speech, of which several pages of sample vocabulary are given. For example, "ointment," in this language is simplified to "Oppodeltoch;" "spirit" to Nenufarenicaballi;" "health" to "Zeninephidei;" "Mercury" to "Diatessdelton;" etc. The intellectual wizard who invented this Honorificabilitudinitatibus is none other than Bustius Hohenheimus—the headmaster. The treatment is throughout light and witty, and the satire, very obvious. But the method of holding up to ridicule the achievements of the western world is the rare method employed in Gulliver's voyages to Lilliput and Laputa.
So much for the general method and setting for satire in the Philosophic Voyage. In regard to the specific objects of satire, there does not seem to be any important development to note. While the choice of subject varies slightly from one author to another, for the most part the range is the same. From Lucian to Swift, the offensive is directed at historians, academicians, lawyers and court procedure, physicians, kings, priests and religion. In Gulliver the list is quite as long as in any of the earlier works, but the omission of religion is a conspicuous departure from precedent. The allusion made in passing to the High Church and Low Church parties in Lilliput(19) involves no question of religion, but only a reflection upon the motives of expediency which determined the piety of King George I, and the Prince of Wales. If Swift had followed the tradition of his predecessors he could, like Rabelais(20), have charged Christianity with the guilt of the world's insincerity and disease; and in the manner of the French deists(21) he could have portrayed the sweet and charming piety of the Hindoos or Confucianists as the ideal. That we do not find this in Gulliver might be adequately explained by the assumption that Swift knew something about the "gentle" practices of the Hindoos, but this is not necessary. From other of his writings it is clear enough that Swift was not one of those who deny the power of Christianity because they find its obligations inconvenient. In fact, the Christian Gulliver, though bad enough, is ranked by the Houyhnhnms above the Yahoos(22), who unquestionably represent the destiny of a race ruled by instinct and passion alone. Swift is not a Platonist. Man left to his own devices will not discover the eternal pattern of truth in the stars, for he is loath to look up. At best he may discover its blurred reflection in the mud.
This is perhaps the best place to consider some of the more general features of the satiric style of Gulliver's Travels, a style famous for its sustained irony and biting wit, in its relation to its fore-runners. In most of the Philosophic Voyages there is no great merit of style and seldom anything that is even consistent. The styles of Lucian, Cyrano and their imitators are for the most part nondescript. One chapter is in the ironic vein, another purely comic, and still another of a straight narrative character. Where there is real art, it is of an eclectic and variable type. Two authors, however, have contributed materially to the method of Swift in Gulliver. To an imitation of the works of Rabelais(23), which Swift knew well and quoted from memory, must be assigned the fondness for the filth of the body with its odors, excrements, and pollutions, which appears in Gulliver(24). In Rabelais this element of obscenity is drawn out to burlesque proportions, while in Gulliver it is restrained though not refined. Where Rabelais delights in filth for comical effect, Swift's use of it is always disgusting and never suggestive. The general ideas for Gulliver's method of extinguishing the fire at the palace of Lilliput(25) and for the occupations of some of the professors at Lagado(26), were borrowed from similar situations in Rabelais, as I will show later; but the contrast in diction and tone is the contrast that would exist between a treatise on human physiology and a corresponding anecdote as told in the rear of any saloon.
Swift owes a more considerable debt to the style of his elder contemporary Thomas Brown, a pamphleteer of no mean ability, whose works have been shown to have been assimilated and extensively imitated by Swift(27). Brown in turn was steeped in the satiric hu mor of Lucian and Rabelais(28). His writings carry on the latter's note of obscenity, which appears in combination with sustained irony of the kind found in Gulliver. Brown's satire is less grotesque than that of Rabelais, and at the same time not so restrained nor so well proportioned as that of Swift. Rabelais writes with the queer turns of wit peculiar to the drunken man; Brown, with more coherence of thought and with much more consistent drollery, gives the effect of one who has taken a glass too much; but Swift is always sober. The danger is likely to be that Brown's influence be understated, rather than exaggerated. Just as in the Bicker-staff papers Swift continued Brown's joke at the expense of the astrologer Partridge(29), so in Gulliver, pages, satirizing physicians, soldiers, and lawyers, are all but verbal counterparts of similar passages in the works of Brown.
In general, the satiric treatment in Gulliver can be distinguished in three ways from the style of earlier Voyages. It is marked first of all by its pregnancy of thought, condensed to a degree that is frequently epigrammatic. Lucian pounds away at his historians, repeating endlessly that they are all liars, each time as though he were confiding a state secret, until the idea is all surface with no depth. Rabelais runs on and on with his cumulation of incident and synonym without knowing where to stop. The essence of his wit is good, but it could be extracted and bound up into a very thin volume. In Gulliver every paragraph is essential. The reader is surprised with satire within satire, with the ingenious wit which turns the subject over and over, always revealing something new. That which sets Swift above not only the other writers of Philosophic Voyages, but above all the other Queen Anne wits is the amazing number of his ideas per square inch.
A second distinction of Gulliver is the consistent pertinence of its prose style. Tom Brown crowds ideas into condensed space, but it was left for Swift to sort them out. In Gulliver there are no excursions into irrelevant fields, the main theme is never forgotten. The narratives of Cyrano are broken by the introduction of tiresome arguments about the nature of a vacuum and the constitution of the atom; and in most of the Philosophic Voyages incidents are introduced for their own sake alone. In Gulliver, the minutest detail, whether it be the measurements of pygmy life or a humorous incident, is essential. Not only is every idea essential, but the most insignificant details are stated with extreme accuracy. The size of the bed made for Gulliver by the pygmies, as well as his rations, are computed with the most scrupulous regard for the relative proportions assumed(30), in contrast to Rabelais' reckless method of shovelling hundreds of steaks and pies down the throat of his giant, Gargantua(31). Minimum of digression and the lack of confusion found in Gulliver's Travels is the sort of achievement that comes but seldom, and then only with fasting and prayer.
Finally, the style of Gulliver is marked by an elevated tone, dignified and grave. Though Swift borrowed some of Robelais' obscene ideas, he avoided the latter's scurilous language. This quality of classical restraint in diction is at once both an hindrance and a help. A certain gaiety and lightness of touch, in dealing with the comic, is lost. On the other hand the solemn treatment of trifles is a very effective device for ridiculing the petty actions of men, clothing them as it does with mock dignity. The net result is satire less spontaneous and comical than in some of the earlier Voyages, but infinitely more effective.
In conclusion, what are the achievements of Swift in satire in Gulliver's Travels, apart from the characteristics of style just considered? He must be credited with the originality of the idea which runs through the first two voyages, of first reducing and then magnifying the proportions of life to reveal its pettiness and its ugliness together. Lucian's Voyage to Heaven describes an insignificant world as it appears from a great height, but there is much more than this in Gulliver(32). Expanding a bare suggestion in Cyrano, Swift conceives of a relativity in human affairs, in accordance with which false sources of pride can be at once detected when they are viewed in true perspective. This satire of proportion becomes his acid test of true values. He discovers that dominion, rank, feminine beauty, etc., are of relative value, but there is no indication that courage, devotion, or intelligence would change its aspect in Lilliput or Brobdingnag(33). Gulliver's third Voyage is the most imitative, repeating for the most part borrowed ideas. By common consent of readers it is the least interesting of all(34). The satire in the fourth Voyage has been considered most distinctively Swiftian, though it is less original than the satire in the first two voyages. Contrary to the statements made by Sir Walter Scott, Temple Scott, John Churton Collins and others(35), the complete condemnation of the human race embodied in the contrast between the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos is not without precedent,—the same satire, no less brutal, is in the second romance of Cyrano, a work that was more carefully read by Swift than it has been by his editors and critics since. There is, however, something original about the satire in this Voyage, not its brutality, but something else which a study of the fore-runners of Gulliver has made very clear.
In all earlier Voyages when man was condemned in the presence of animals, the condemnation was of civilized man. The fault was with his perverted training, his unnatural practices, his abuse of intelligence, and his tyrannous institutions, the state and the church. The philosophical position taken was the plea for a return to nature, as described in the animal kingdoms. All of this appears in Gulliver's fourth voyage with the important difference that the lowest and filthiest lot is reserved for the native Yahoo who is not a product of European civilization at all, but man in a state of nature, "cunning, malicious, libidinous, cowardly and insolent"(36). Not that Swift takes refuge in civilization, the condemnation of Gulliver is plain enough. But Gulliver is allowed by the Houyhnhnms to be endowed with a spark of intelligence, by so much above the Yahoos; the Governor of the Houyhnhnms even fears that Gulliver may be contaminated by contact with the Yahoos. No hope can be found for the race anywhere, certainly not in letting it run wild according to the notions of the individualist. The conclusion is complete pessimism. The best thing that can be done is to subject the race to some rules imposed from without, thereby curbing the mischief which it fain would accomplish. If it be true, as a study by C. H. Firth(37) has rendered probable, that in the Yahoos, Swift represents especially the degenerate natives of Ireland, then we are only more justified in concluding that the author of Gulliver's fourth voyage was at heart an imperialist, though indeed a very pessimistic one. He would no doubt modify the doctrine of the "White Man's Burden" to make the white man a part of a burden. At any rate Swift makes it very clear that his indictment includes all mankind. The Abbé DesFontaines, who translated Gulliver into French, wrote to Swift apologizing for his excision of the more objectionable passages, which he said, with characteristic conceit, were inapplicable to the French, though no doubt they were fair descriptions of the English(38). To this Swift replied sharply, "The same vices and follies reign everywhere; if I had written of England alone, or of this century alone, so far from meriting translation, my work would not deserve to be read"(39). The misanthropy increases steadily from the first voyage, where man appears as a strutting Lilliputian to the fourth, where he is a loathsome Yahoo. The pessismism extends, moreover, to all creatures. The peace-loving Brobdingnagians, when examined at close quarters, are ugly and disgusting(40); the amiable Houyhnhnms, though virtuous and harmless, are at the same time ignorant, stupid, and innocent of any achievement of genius. The world through which Gulliver travels is a very bad world, and man is the worst creature on it.
(1) Swift to Pope, Sept. 29, 1725. Correspondence, III, 276.
(2) Holberg's, Klimius; the anonymous Voyage du Pôle Arctique au Pôle Antarctique, and Relation du Monde de Mercure; Mouhy's Lamékis; and Roumier's Voyages de Céton dans les Sept Pianettes. See Bibliography.
(3) I say "almost" because there is, in the second voyage, a reminiscence of the debate on biology that takes place in Cyrano's Histoire de la Lune, in the argument over Gulliver's origin and species. Gulliver, 106. See further chapter 7, below.
(4) Atkinson has made a careful and detailed study of the deistic and rationalistic content of the Realistic Voyages in French, op. cit.
(5) Based on the Odyssey. The tradition first took an independent form in Plutarch's dialogue entitled, "That Brute Beasts Make Use of Reason," in which Ulysses vainly argues with Gryllus to reassume his human shape. (Plutarch's Morals, translated from the Greek by several eminent hands, London, 1704, V, 203-216.) Plutarch was one of Swift's favorite authors. Prose Works, XII, 364.
(6) Translated into English by Tom Brown, 1702, and very likely a part of the latter's works which Swift had "read entire." (See Prose Works, XI, 221. Introduction to "Polite Conversation.")
(7) 1660. The complete title reads, The Parley of the Beasts; or Morphandra, Queen of the Enchanted Island. Wherein Men were found, who being transmuted to Beasts, though proffered to be disenchanted, and to become Men again; yet in regard of the crying sins and rebellious humors of the times, they prefer the life of a brute animal before that of a rational creature. Which fancy consists of various philosophical discussions … touching the declinings of the world, and late depravation of human nature. With reflexes upon the present state of most countries in Christendom. Divided into XI sections. By Jam. Howell, Esq. In the preface the author alludes to Gelli as the one who "taught the beasts their grammar."
(8) See further, chapter 4, below.
(9) See Bibliography under these names. Also, M. P. Conant, op. cit.
(10) Especially Wells' articles written after his visit to Russia in 1920, in which he contrasts the "sincerity" and "highmindedness" of the Soviet demagogues with the corruption of the Allied statesmen.
(11) The two-fold nature of the satire of the second voyage is discussed in chapter 8 below.
(12) This sort of allegory seems not to have occurred to most of the writers of Philosophic Voyages. Their tendency was rather to have the traveller discover something new and different from European custom, hence the predominance of Utopian contrast instead of allegory. There were, however, purely allegorical works which do not concern us here directly because of their lack of genuine adventure. So-called Voyages were written describing "fake" countries, not located anywhere. See Fontaines' Pays de Jansénie, 1664; Tallemant's Isle d'Amour, 1663; and other allegories of the Bunyan type, listed together in the Bibliography.
(13) See the list of imitations, appended to Part III, below.
(14) For a more general description of the work, see chapter 1, above. The possibility of its influence upon Gulliver is discussed in chapter 4.
(17) The only edition I have seen is one dated 1643, 1 vol. in-12, in which the Mundus is bound with Bacon's New Atlantis, and Campanella's Civitas Solis, all in Latin. The first six chapters of the Mundus were translated into English by Swift's friend, Dr. William King, sometime before 1711. (See further, chapter 4, below.) This fragmentary translation may be found in Morley's Ideal Commonwealths, 1896.
(19)Gulliver, 48. (Lilliput, chapter 4.)
(20) See synopsis of Rabelais in chapter 1, above.
(21) See Montesquieu, DuFresne, etc., works listed in the Bibliography under "Oriental Traveller."
(22) That Gulliver was a Christian is stated in Laputa, chapter XI. Gulliver, 226. Gulliver's superiority to the Yahoos is repeatedly stated by the Houyhnhnms, see especially, Houyhnhnms, chapter VIII, first paragraph.
(23) See the study of Rabelais as a source in chapter 4, below. Also my article in Mod. Lang. Notes, November, 1922.
(24) This is pointed out later in connection with the study of the situations in which it is most marked. See especially chapters 5-7, below.
(25)Lilliput, chapter 5.
(26)Laputa, chapters 5-6.
(27) See the source study and references in notes 68-71 in chapter 4, below.
(28) Brown's second volume consists of "Letters from the Dead to the Living, together with Dialogues of the Dead, after the manner of Lucian." The influence of Rabelais is evident throughout Brown's works, and he is directly quoted in the following places: I, 86-88; II, 93-96; IV, 57-62. (Edition, 1760.)
(29) See chapter 4, below.
(30) See chapter 5, below.
(31) Rebelais, Book I, chapter 37.
(32) See my study of Lucian as a source, chapter 4, below. Also my article in Mod. Lang. Notes, June, 1922.
(33) See further chapter 8, below.
(34) See contemporary opinions of the third voyage quoted in chapter 4, note 24, below.
(35) All of whom depend upon the worthless thesis of Borkowsky in Anglia, XV. See Cyrano as a source in chapter 4, below.
(37)The Political Significance of "Gulliver's Travels," C. H. Firth. (Proceedings of the British Academy, IX, 1920.)
(38) DesFontaines to Swift, July 4, 1727. Correspondence, III, 397-8.
(39) Swift to DesFontaines, July, 1727. Correspondence, III, 406-7.
(40) For the double picture of the Brobdingnagians, see chapter 8, below.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1745
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels
The following entry presents criticism of Swift's Gulliver's Travels. See also, A Modest Proposal Criticism.
Swift's greatest satire, Gulliver's Travels, is considered one of the most important works in the history of world literature. Published as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts; by Lemuel Gulliver in 1726, Gulliver's Travels depicts one man's journeys to several strange and unusual lands. The general theme of Gulliver's Travels is a satirical examination of human nature, man's potential for depravity, and the dangers of the misuse of reason. Throughout the volume Swift attacked the baseness of humankind even as he suggested the greatest virtues of the human race; he also attacked the folly of human learning and political systems even as he implied the proper functions of art, science, and government. Gulliver's Travels, some scholars believe, had its origins during Swift's years as a Tory polemicist, when he was part of a group of prominent Tory writers known as the Scriblerus Club. The group, which also included Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot, among others, collaborated on several satires, including The Scriblerus Papers. They also planned a satire called The Memoirs of a Martinus Scriblerus, which was to include several imaginary voyages. An immediate success, Gulliver's Travels was inspired by this work. Swift finished Gulliver's Travels was published anonymously, but Swift's authorship was widely suspected. Alternately considered an attack on humanity or a clear-eyed assessment of human strengths and weaknesses, the novel is a complex study of human nature and of the moral, philosophical, and scientific thought of Swift's time which has resisted any single definition of meaning for nearly three centuries.
Plot and Major Characters
Written in the form of a travel journal, Gulliver's Travels is the fictional account of four extraordinary voyages made by Lemuel Gulliver, a physician who signs on to serve as a ship's surgeon when he is unable to provide his family with a sufficient income
in London. After being shipwrecked Gulliver first arrives at Lilliput, an island whose inhabitants are just six inches tall and where the pettiness of the political system is mirrored in the diminutive size of its citizens.
Gulliver is referred to as the "Man-Mountain" by the Lilliputians and is eventually pressed into service by the King in a nonsensical war with the neighboring island of Blefuscu. Gulliver finally escapes Lilliput and returns briefly to England before a second voyage takes him to Brobdingnag. There he finds himself dwarfed by inhabitants who are sixty feet tall. Gulliver's comparatively tiny size now makes him wholly dependent on the protection and solicitude of others, and he is imperiled by dangerous encounters with huge rats and a curious toddler. Gulliver, however, incurs the disdain of the kindly and virtuous Brobdingnagian rulers when his gunpowder display, intended to impress his hosts as an exemplary product of European civilization, proves disastrous. An address Gulliver delivers to the Brobdingnagians describing English political practices of the day is also met with much scorn. Housed in a miniature box, Gulliver abruptly departs Brobdingnag when a giant eagle flies off with him and drops him in the ocean. He soon embarks on his third voyage to the flying island of Laputa, a mysterious land inhabited by scientists, magicians, and sorcerers who engage in abstract theorizing and conduct ill-advised experiments based on flawed calculations. Here Gulliver also visits Glubbdubdrib where it is possible to summon the dead and to converse with such figures as Aristotle and Julius Caesar. He also travels to Luggnagg, where he encounters the Struldbrugs, a group of people who are given immortality, yet are condemned to live out their eternal existence trapped in feeble and decrepit bodies. Once again Gulliver returns to England before a final journey, to the land of the Houyhnhnms, who are a superior race of intelligent horses. But the region is also home to the Yahoos, a vile and depraved race of ape-like creatures. Gulliver is eventually exiled from Houyhnhnm society when the horses gently insist that Gulliver must return to live among his own kind. After this fourth and final voyage, he returns to England, where he has great difficulty adjusting to everyday life. All people everywhere remind him of the Yahoos.
Each of the four voyages in Gulliver's Travels serves as a vehicle for Swift to expose and excoriate some aspect of human folly. The first voyage has been interpreted as an allegorical satire of the political events of the early eighteenth century, a commentary on the moral state of England, a general satire on the pettiness of human desires for wealth and power, and a depiction of the effects of unwarranted pride and self-promotion. The war with the tiny neighboring island of Blefuscu represents England's rivalry with France. In Brobdingnag, Gulliver's diminutive status serves as a reminder of how perspective and viewpoint alter one's condition and claims to power in society. The imperfect, yet highly moral Brobdingnagians represent, according to many critics, Swift's conception of ethical rulers. The voyage to Laputa, the flying island, is a scathing attack upon science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reveals Swift's thorough acquaintance with the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the leading publication of the scientific community of his day. The third voyage unequivocally manifests Swift's contempt and disdain for abstract theory and ideology that is not of practical service to humans. But it is the voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms that reveals Swift's ultimate satiric object—man's inability to come to terms with his true nature. In particular, the Houyhnhnms are interpreted as symbols and examples of a human order that, although unattainable, deserves to remain an ideal, while the Yahoos are found to be the representatives of the depths of humanity's potential fall if that ideal is abandoned.
Gulliver's Travels has always been Swift's most discussed work. Critics have provided a wide variety of interpretations of each of the four voyages, of Swift's satiric targets, and of the narrative voice. But scholars agree that most crucial to an understanding of Gulliver's Travels is an understanding of the fourth voyage, to the land of the Houyhnhnms. Merrel D. Clubb has noted that "the longer that one studies Swift, the more obvious it becomes that the interpretations and verdict to be placed on the 'Voyage to the Houyhnhnms' is, after all, the central problem of Swift criticism." Much of the controversy surrounds three possible interpretations of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. One school of thought has traditionally viewed the Yahoos as a satiric representation of debased humanity, while taking the Houyhnhnms as representatives of Swift's ideals of rationality and order. The two races are thus interpreted as symbols of the dual nature of humanity, with Gulliver's misanthropy based on his perception of the flaws of human nature and the failure of humanity to develop its potential for reason, harmony, and order. Another critical position considers both the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos to be the subject of satire, with the Yahoos representing the physical baseness of humans and the Houyhnhnms representing the fatuousness of the idea that humans will ever achieve a rationally-ordered existence. The ultimate satiric intent of the work to critics who accept this interpretation is that the only truly rational or enlightened beings in existence are not humans, but another species altogether. Since the 1950s, however, a variety of critics have tempered these readings by illuminating the complexity of purpose in the fourth voyage. The Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are now most often discussed as both satiric objects and representatives of the duality of human nature. The nature of Gulliver is another much-debated element of the Travels. Early critics generally viewed him as the mouthpiece of Swift. Modern critics, who recognize the subtlety of Swift's creation of Gulliver, have discredited that position. The most significant contemporary debate is concerned with Swift's intentions regarding the creation of Gulliver—whether he is meant to be a consistently realized character, a reliable narrator, or a satiric object whose opinions are the object of Swift's ridicule. This debate over the nature of Gulliver is important because critics seek to determine whether Gulliver is intended to be a man with definite character traits who undergoes a transformation, or an allegorical representative of humanity. In general, Gulliver is now considered a flexible persona manipulated by Swift to present a diversity of views or satirical situations and to indicate the complexity, the ultimate indefinability, of human nature. Many scholars have suggested that Gulliver's Travels has no ultimate meaning but to demand that readers regard humanity without the prejudices of pessimism or optimism, and accept human beings as a mixture of good and evil. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics of Swift were primarily interested in aspects of his character, although a few did actually discuss the meaning and merits of his work at length. The eighteenth-century critics were most concerned with depicting Swift's perceived immorality and misanthropy, and they often argued their case with the help of misrepresentations, or deliberate fabrications of facts. Swift's defenders, in attacking these critics, provided the first real criticism of Swift, in particular pointing out the misrepresentations of his life. Twentieth-century critics have been confronted with the task of sifting through the misconceptions to reevaluate Swift's total achievement. There are many psychological examinations of Swift's character; the psychoanalysts, however, have often been criticized for neglecting the literary or intellectual traditions of Swift's age when associating his works with supposed neurotic tendencies. Some commentators believed that psychoanalytic critics also make an obvious mistake when they identify Swift with his characters, assuming, for example, that Gulliver's comments reflect the opinions of his creator. Close textual analysis has demonstrated the complicated elements of Swift's works and proven that they do not always reflect his personal opinions, but are carefully written to reflect the opinions of Swift's created narrators. A master of simple yet vividly descriptive prose and of a style so direct that if often masks the complexity of his irony, Swift is praised for his ability to craft his satires entirely through the eyes of a created persona. He is now regarded as a complex though not mysterious man who created works of art which will permit no single interpretation. The massive amount of criticism devoted to Swift each year reflects his continued literary importance: his work is valuable not for any statement of ultimate meaning, but for its potential for raising questions in the mind of the reader.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7154
SOURCE: "The Geography and Chronology of Gulliver's Travels," in Four Essays on "Gulliver's Travels, " Peter Smith, 1958, pp. 50-67.
[In the following essay, first published in 1945 and reprinted in 1958, Case argues that many of the geographical and chronological inconsistencies in Gulliver's Travels are not due to Swift's carelessness, but instead are attributable to engraving and printing errors that remained uncorrected in later editions.]
Surprisingly little attention has been paid by editors and commentators to the geography and chronology of Gulliver's Travels. Sir Henry Craik, in his Selections from Swift, found the geography worth a fairly extended passage,1 Mr. G. R. Dennis, in his edition of Gulliver,2 commented on some of the cruces, and Mr. Harold Williams devoted some space in the introduction of his edition to a discussion of the maps.3 Mr. Williams also provided his readers with the most satisfactory commentary we possess on the difficulties and inconsistencies of the time-scheme.4 The conclusions reached by these scholars, and, indeed, by almost all students of Swift who have occupied themselves with the problem, were that Swift worked out for his book a detailed framework in time and space, but that it is (at least as it has come down to us) so imperfect that it is impossible to reconcile it with itself or to be sure, in many instances, of the author's intentions. Recently, however, Professor John R. Moore has suggested that the geography and chronology of the Travels are so nonsensical as to indicate intentional confusion: in other words, they are part of a satiric burlesque of travel literature.5
Undoubtedly the framework of the Travels presents difficulties. Unless some happy chance brings to light more material like the Ford letters we shall have to rely on conjectures with regard to a number of points. Yet it is possible to solve a good deal of the puzzle, and to come much closer to certainty than is usually believed.
Two geographical authorities are spoken of in the Travels—Nicolas Sanson and Herman Moll. The only mention of the former is found in the second voyage, where the "little Book" carried by Glumdalclitch is described (2.2.8) as "not much larger than a Sanson's Atlas" There is nothing to indicate that Swift ever looked inside the covers of this book, which he cites only because it is the largest he can think of. There was, indeed, little reason for using Sanson as an authority. His atlases had all been published in the seventeenth century, and the first quarter of the eighteenth had seen great advances in geographical knowledge, especially in the neighborhood of those regions in which Swift was to place his imaginary countries. Swift's obvious course was to avoid, as far as possible, any gross contradictions of accepted cartography, and he could not have effected this more surely and easily than by following the maps of Moll. This eminent English engraver of Dutch extraction had industriously gathered geographical data from the turn of the century, and by Englishmen, at least, his maps were widely accepted as the standard. As a matter of fact, however, the early eighteenth-century maps were much of a muchness, at least so far as the general physical structure of the world was concerned. Even in the regions of the South Seas (a term which sometimes included the North as well as the South Pacific) the cartographers tended to agree, only venturing to show occasional divergences in minor details, and often attempting to hedge by the use of faintly drawn coast lines which warned the reader not to put too much faith in what was, at best, unverified information.
Swift's remarks about Moll are entirely different in tone from his incidental reference to Sanson. Gulliver ventures (4.11.3) to disagree respectfully with Moll in the matter of the southeastern portion of New Holland, which is, he insists, at least three degrees west of the position it occupies in Moll's maps. This is enough to show that Swift had consulted Moll with attention: it also shows that he felt it safe, in the current state of geographical knowledge, to dispute minor points even with an expert. Whether he relied on any other sources it is impossible to say. No atlas appears in the catalogue of his library as it existed at the time of his death, but he did own numerous books of travel, most of which contained charts of some kind.6 Among them was Dampier's New Voyage around the World (1697) which, it is almost certain, Swift read intensively. This book contains some of Moll's earliest maps, including one of the world, and another of the Netherlands East Indies and the northern part of New Holland or Australia. Some of the place names Swift uses in the Travels differ in form from those used by Moll: but these Swift may have taken from the mass of travel literature which he read during the period in which the book was composed.7 In any event, a fairly extensive search among the maps and atlases of the period has brought to light no map which agrees more closely than Moll's with Gulliver's geography, and it will be convenient to use the former's A New & Correct Map of the Whole World (1719) as a basis for discussion.8
Swift's primary geographical problem was not a difficult one. He had to find, in the unexplored portions of the globe, locations for seven imaginary countries, only two of which were of considerable size. It was desirable that these locations should not be so close to either pole as to be obviously unfit for human habitation, and Swift apparently felt also that they should not be too close to the equator: the climates do not seem to differ much from that of England. It was also necessary to take care that these countries did not lie too close to each other, or to trade routes generally known to Europeans, though, on the other hand, they could not lie too far from these routes, lest it should be difficult to account for Gulliver's arrivals and departures. Accordingly we find that the three smallest countries, Lilliput, Blefuscu, and Houyhnhnmland, are placed not far from Australia, although on different sides, and that Brobdingnag, Balnibarbi, and the islands described in the third voyage are situated in the North Pacific, by far the largest area which remained unexplored by Europeans in 1720.
An examination of Moll's map shows the astuteness of Swift's choices.9 Most traders with the Orient in the eighteenth century preferred to hug the coast line of Asia, sailing to China through the multitudinous islands which lie between Siam and Australia. Consequently the Malay Archipelago was well known to mariners, save for New Guinea, the eastern and southern coasts of which were in dispute, some cartographers boldly uniting the island with Australia, while others remained noncommittal. The northern and western coasts of Australia had been determined with considerable accuracy, but the eastern and southeastern shores were not even guessed at, although there was a general agreement that it was possible to sail between Australia and New Zealand, the southwestern corner of which appears in Moll's maps. Exploration in the North Pacific had been checked by the disinclination of the Japanese to deal with Europeans: even the Dutch, who had a monopoly of occidental trade with Japan, had for nearly a century been limited to the port of Nagasaki. There was, therefore, almost no knowledge of the geography of northern Japan and of the regions which lay beyond. It was not known how far Iesso (Yezo) extended, whether it was an island or a peninsula, or whether any lands lay to the north or the east of it, although many maps vaguely indicated a territory to the east called "Company's Land"—claimed by the Dutch East India Company on the ground of explorations early in the seventeenth century. This land was separated from Yezo by the "Straits of the Vries," which led to a hypothetical northwest passage to Europe, hope for the discovery of which had not yet been abandoned. The eastward extent of "Company's Land" was frankly a matter of conjecture, some maps indicating only the western tip, others showing (though in faint lines) a coast stretching almost due east to within a short distance of the North American coast, close to the "Straits of Annian." Western North America was perhaps the most mysterious region of all. The cartographers were not even sure whether California was an island or a part of the main continent. Many maps, including Moll's, showed the Gulf of California extending northward until it rejoined the Pacific at the entrance to Puget Sound, north of Cape Blanco. San Francisco Bay was undiscovered, and to the north and west of Puget Sound lay a perfect and absolute blank.
With so much of the globe at his disposal it would seem that Swift should have had no trouble in arranging his hypothetical countries without coming into too violent conflict with accepted geography. And yet a series of misfortunes has led to a very general misunderstanding of his intentions. The chief misfortune was the fact that Swift, because of the secret method employed to publish the Travels, was unable to read proof and correct errors of detail. It is impossible to determine to what extent the errors were the fault of the author, the transcriber, and the printer, but that there were errors is undeniable. The second misfortune was that the maker of the maps for the original edition was careless or stupid or both. He was guilty of mistakes for which there can be no excuse—the misspelling of names, the miscalculation of comparative distances, the misplacing of localities with respect to each other when there was no discrepancy in the text from which he worked. But despite all this, and despite the fact that no one believes that Swift approved the maps, certain assumptions which the original engraver made have been accepted by modern scholars without question, with the result that Swift has been charged with errors of which he was not guilty. The engraver's practice seems to have been to read the text until he came to the first description of the location of the land Gulliver was visiting, then to assume that this description was accurate, and that any conflicting supplementary data must be reconciled with it, or ignored, if reconciliation proved to be impossible. It seems never to have occurred to him to assemble all of the geographical data in a given voyage, to try to harmonize the whole and, if conflicts appeared, to seek a solution of the difficulty without giving preference to any statement because it came early in the tale rather than late. And yet such a procedure would have prevented a series of blunders which begins with the first voyage.
The wreck which cast Gulliver upon the shores of Lilliput occurred "Northwest of Van Diemen 's Land" and "in the Latitude of 30 Degrees 2 Minutes South" (1.1.5). Two areas bear the name "Van Dieman's Land" (or "Dimen's Land") in eighteenth-century maps—north-western Australia and Tasmania—but as the former lies between ten and twenty degrees south latitude it cannot have been intended here by Swift unless the passage in the Travels is hopelessly corrupt. But there are difficulties even if one assumes that the reference is to Tasmania. A glance at a modern map will reveal what was apparent to the eyes of the engraver of the original maps for the Travels: that a point northwest of Tasmania and in latitude 30° 2' S. lies not in the ocean but well inland in Australia. A timid soul might have solved this discrepancy by moving Lilliput a little to the south of Australia, in latitude 32° or 33° S. The engraver was made of bolder stuff. He moved Tasmania some forty-five degrees to the west, and placed Lilliput in the Indian Ocean, due south of the western end of Sumatra. Australia was ruthlessly erased from the map. It is not surprising to find that this was only the beginning of the engraver's liberties. Both Lilliput and Blefuscu are drawn on a scale far too large, as compared with Sumatra, and Mildendo appears as "Mendendo."
Yet after all this manipulation of the facts there are more difficulties to come. When Gulliver left Blefuscu he sailed first north and then northwest (1.8.9). "My Intention," he says, "was to reach, if possible, one of those Islands, which I had reason to believe lay to the North-East of Van Diemen's Land." On the third day he was picked up about twenty-four leagues from Blefuscu, in latitude 30° S., by a ship sailing on a southeasterly course in its return from Japan "by the North and South-Seas" Either an eighteenth- or a twentieth-century map will show the ridiculousness of this account if we assume that Lilliput lies either south of Sumatra, as Motte's engraver thought, or in the Great Australian Bight, as some later commentators have suggested. It represents Gulliver as attempting to sail entirely around Australia in search of an island on which to land, and it describes the ship's captain as laying a southeasterly course from the neighborhood of Sumatra in order to reach England. If we adopt the theory which seems to be most favored today—that Van Diemen's Land is northwestern Australia, and that the position of Lilliput is about 15° S. and 120° E., similar difficulties arise: they can be solved only by supposing that the island Gulliver was searching for lay northwest of Australia, and that the ship which rescued him was on a southwesterly course—in other words, by changing the text in four places in order to achieve a result which is uncertain and unsatisfactory.
In all the speculation about this crux it does not seem to have occurred to anyone to question the accuracy of the first datum of all. Yet if one supposes that Lilliput lies northeast of Tasmania, instead of northwest it, all difficulties vanish. The position thus indicated lies in the South Pacific about midway between Brisbane and the North Cape of New Zealand. Gulliver's project of sailing northwest from Blefuscu in the hope of reaching an island northeast of Tasmania is seen to be a thoroughly practicable plan, and the ship captain's southeasterly course is recognized as entirely normal, since traveling from the Orient to England by sailing around Australia was an accepted alternative to following the shorter but more difficult route through the Netherlands East Indies. This solution disposes of all difficulties so simply and completely that there can be little doubt of its correctness.
The geography of Brobdingnag is a much less complicated matter. Even Motte's engraver was right as to its approximate location, though he was characteristically careless in his scale, making the country far too small. Brobdingnag is a peninsula joined to the northern portion of the North American continent (2.4.1). Gulliver's observation (2.4.2) that it is "terminated to the North-east by a Ridge of Mountains" suggests that the main axis of the peninsula runs from southwest to northeast. The dimensions of the country (in which Swift is a little more generous than the map will allow) are "six thousand Miles in Length, and from three to five in Breadth." The most helpful data about the location are given in the last chapter of the voyage. The eagle which captured Gulliver carried him fifty leagues from the coast (presumably the southern coast) of Brobdingnag, and dropped him somewhere near 44° N. 143° E. According to Moll's map this position is just off the coast of Yezo, in the "Straits of the Vries." This would fix one part of the southern coast of Brobdingnag in the vicinity of 45° N. 143° E., though the southernmost tip may lie some distance further to the southeast. A coast line running west-northwest and east-southeast may be extended as far as 20° N. 170° W. without interfering with either Moll's geographical data or the lands described in the third voyage, as their positions are worked out hereafter. From this point the eastern coast line may tentatively be carried north-northeast to 40° N. 140° W., and thence in a still more northerly direction to 70° N. 90° W., from which point the high mountain range which, according to Gulliver, separates Brobdingnag from the rest of North America, may be supposed to run northwest. The coast line, however, must be pure conjecture, since we are given only enough information to locate the points of Gulliver's arrival and departure, which lie very close to each other. The storm at the beginning of the second voyage caught the crew of the Adventure just east of the Moluccas, about three degrees north of the equator, and drove them a long distance east-northeast, after which a strong west-southwest wind carried them about five hundred leagues to the east. Such a course could easily have brought them to a position off the southern coast of Brobdingnag if it lay in the region suggested above. No doubt the point at which the landing was made was east of Flanflasnic, which seems to have been close to the southwest tip of the country. Such a location, of course, disposes of the hypothetical "Company's Land," but Swift would have felt no compunction over depriving the Dutch of territory.
It has been remarked that the dimensions of Brobdingnag are too large to be fitted into the map of the world as known to the eighteenth century.10 The exaggeration was not, after all, very serious. The southern coast, as described above, would have given the country a width of three thousand miles, which might have been increased, farther up the peninsula, to well over four thousand. If the North American shore line above Cape Blanco bent backward to the east, so that the dividing mountain range was on the far side of the pole, a long axis of a good deal more than five thousand miles might be secured. Swift may, of course, have been careless in his calculations: he may even have been deceived as to the area at his disposal because he used a flat map instead of a globe. Most probably, however, he was not so much concerned with precise geography here as he was with providing the Brobdingnagians with a country suitable to their size: note, in the same passage, the mountains thirty miles high. In the first voyage Swift had ignored his scale deliberately for the sake of a picturesque incident—the troop of cavalry exercising on his handkerchief—and this slighter deviation for a more important purpose would probably not have worried him. If this is the case, however, it is pertinent to inquire why he chose just these dimensions as adequate for a country of giants. If one divides them by twelve, in accordance with the scale, they become five hundred miles in length and from two hundred and fifty to four hundred sixteen and twothirds miles in breadth. The long axis of the British Isles, from Cape Wrath to the Isle of Wight, is about five hundred and sixty miles. The greatest width, taken at right angles to this axis, is from Bray Head, in Ireland, to Scarborough, about four hundred and fifty miles; elsewhere the width is commonly between two and three hundred miles. The figures are at least suggestive.
There is, however, one difficulty about the geography of Brobdingnag which becomes manifest only at the beginning of the third voyage. Here we learn (3.1.8) that Gulliver was boarded by pirates in the neighborhood of "the Latitude of 46 N. and of Longitude 183" (that is, 177° W.). This point, if previous calculations are correct, lies within the boundaries of Brobdingnag. But there are several good reasons for suspecting that the bearings thus given are inaccurate. In the first place, even if this position did lie within the ocean, it would have been an odd spot for eighteenth-century pirates to lurk about in search of prey. In the second place, it is hard to see how Gulliver's sloop could have reached this place by the course he describes. Finally, the bearings are inconsistent with the movements of Gulliver during the remainder of the third voyage. We have once more to do with an initial error which has been accepted without question, and which has consequently darkened counsel.
Motte's engraver outdid himself. He began by placing Balnibarbi (which he makes an island rather than a part of a continent) in latitude 43° N., a few hundred miles due east of Yezo. He was then confronted with the information (3.7.1) that Luggnagg lies northwest of Balnibarbi, and that this island, in turn, lies south-east of Japan. Lest there should be any doubt about this last point, Gulliver gives the exact position of Luggnagg—29° N. 140° E. The engraver compromised: he drew Luggnagg southwest of Balnibarbi, so that it lay southeast of the northernmost part of Japan, and a good ten degrees east of the position given by Gulliver. His confusion of mind led him to commit the additional errors of attaching the island of Glubbdubdrib to Luggnagg, and placing the port of Maldonada in the latter island as well.
The process of working backward from data given late in the voyage produces, however, a clear and consistent picture. To begin with, the position of Luggnagg is described so circumstantially, and agrees so well with Gulliver's description of his voyage from thence to Japan, that we may feel ourselves on fairly safe ground. Balnibarbi is to the southeast of Luggnagg, and at a considerable distance from it, since Gulliver's voyage between the two countries occupied a month. Still, the length of the voyage was due in part to unfavorable winds, and perhaps we should look for the port of Maldonada in the neighborhood of 24° N. 149° E. This port is situated on the southern or western coast of Balnibarbi, since the island of Glubbdubdrib lies southwest of it. Lagado is about a hundred and fifty miles from Maldonada, and apparently south of it. Now the island from which Gulliver was rescued by the Laputans was ninety leagues (about three hundred and fifty miles) southwest by west of Lagado (3.2.8), and consequently about four hundred and fifty miles southwest by south of Maldonada, if the previous suppositions have been correct. By this reasoning Gulliver was marooned near 20° N. 145° E.—a long way from 46° N. 177° W. Which of these positions agrees more closely with Gulliver's account of his movements before he encountered the pirates?
Three days out of Tongking on a trading voyage, Gulliver's sloop was caught in a storm which drove it for five days, first northeast and then east, after which the weather became fair, but with a strong gale from the west for ten days. It is clear that the only northing the ship made occurred during the first part of the five days' storm. It is equally clear that no storm could drive a sailing vessel twenty-five degrees northward (more than sixteen hundred miles, even if the ship had no eastward motion) in five days. The commonly accepted position for Balnibarbi, east of Yezo, is an impossible one.
Once more, then, it is necessary to follow Gulliver's story with a map before us, in order to discover what Swift really intended. The Gulf of Tongking is a partially enclosed body of water from which Swift desired Gulliver to be carried into the Pacific. The storm which bore the sloop first northeast and then east (3.1.4) was designed to bring it first opposite Hainan Strait and then eastward through that passage into the open ocean. A ship on such a course would be following the twentieth parallel closely: ten days' progress due east with a strong following gale, partly of storm force, might easily bring it to 144° E. (a run of about thirteen hundred miles), although the precise longitude of the scene of the capture of the sloop may have been a few degrees east or west of this position. That the latitude was not far from 20° N. seems almost certain. How the erroneous "Latitude of 46. N. and of Longitude 183" found its way into the text it is impossible to explain: it may be an overlooked detail surviving from an early draft; it may be a mere error of transcription or a printer's mistake.
The final geographical problem, although it is the simplest of all, has nevertheless led to differences of opinion. In this case the customary geographical details are wanting at the beginning of the voyage, and calculations must be based on a brief passage near the end (4.11.3). From this we learn that Gulliver surmised that Houyhnhnmland lay west of New Holland (Australia), and about 45° S. He therefore decided to sail due east, in the hope of coming either to the southwest coast of Australia, or to some island to the west of that continent. To his surprise, two days' sailing brought him to the southeast point of Australia. Dennis as sumed that this was a mistake for southwest,11 and in this opinion he has been followed by other commentators. The last part of Gulliver's account, however, confirms the reading of the original text. To begin with, the southwestern point of Australia is approximately 34° S., not 45° S. More important is the fact that if this had been the region intended, the geography would require further revision. After rounding the cape which he had first reached, Gulliver saw the ship which eventually rescued him approaching from the north-north-east (4.11.6)—a patent impossibility by either eighteenth- or twentieth-century maps if Gulliver had been near the southwestern tip of Australia. What Swift really meant was that Gulliver had reached the southern point of Tasmania, which, on Moll's map, lies about 44° S., about half a degree further south than it does in actual fact. Swift, in this passage, commits himself on two points which had not been finally determined by eighteenth-century cartographers: that Tasmania was joined to Australia, and that its southern extremity was "at least three Degrees" west of the location shown on Moll's map. Houyhnhnmland, therefore, lies a short distance due west of the southern tip of Tasmania, at about 44° S. 142° E. Motte's engraver was less at fault than usual in placing it at about 40° S. 125° E.
The foregoing geographical scheme for Gulliver's Travels requires only two alternations in the text of the first edition. The time-scheme of the book is more detailed, and cannot be straightened out quite so easily, though the serious difficulties are confined to the third voyage. The second and fourth voyages are extremely simple. There is a slight slip at the beginning of the second. Gulliver returned from Blefuscu on April 13, 1702, and, as he remarked in the last paragraph of the first book, he sailed away again after two months. The actual date of his departure, as we learn from the first paragraph of the voyage to Brobdingnag, was June 20, but in the same paragraph his stay in England is given as ten months. The discrepancy was corrected by Motte in the fourth octavo, though Ford failed to note it in his emendations. The same paragraph contains another minor chronological error. The twenty-day gale which set in on April 19 is said to have ceased before May 2. There is a considerable probability that the former date should read "the 9th of April." Printers habitually read off a fairly long phrase or sentence from a manuscript and set it from memory: if the compositor of the Travels worked in this manner it is easy to understand how the similarity of "9th" and "19th" could have brought about the mistake. Another possible example of this kind of slip occurs near the end of the third voyage.
The remainder of the second voyage presents no difficulties. Gulliver landed in Brobdingnag on June 17, 1703, and was taken to the farmhouse on the same day. He began his tour of the country "upon the 17th of August, about two Months after [his] Arrival," (2.2.6) and reached Lorbrulgrud, after ten weeks, on October 26 (2.2.7-8). Here, after a "few Weeks" (2.3.1), he was bought by the Queen. There are no further statements about the times of Gulliver's adventures until the second paragraph of the last chapter of the voyage, where he observes, "I had now been two Years in this Country; and about the beginning of the third, Glumdalclitch and I attended the King and Queen in a Progress to the South Coast of the Kingdom." This progress must have taken place during the summer of 1705, and the arrival at Flanflasnic, at the end of the journey (2.8.3), presumably occurred late in the summer. This agrees exactly with the only other pertinent bit of information which Swift gives us. " … I never went out of the Ship," Gulliver asserts, "till we came into the Downs, which was on the 3d. Day of June, 1706, about nine Months after my Escape."
The chronology of the last voyage is equally simple. Once again there is a minor discrepancy between the dates and the elapsed time of Gulliver's sojourn in England between voyages. He returned from Laputa on April 10, 1710, and sailed from Portsmouth on the second of August following (3.11.7: 4.1.1): this is a little short of four months, instead of five, as the first edition has it. Gulliver was marooned in Houyhnhnmland on May 9, 1711 (4.1.3): after this there are no clues to the calendar until the latter part of the book. The quadrennial assembly which decided upon the exile of Gulliver met at the vernal equinox, that is, about September 21, since the country lay south of the equator (4.8.16), and about three months before Gulliver's departure (4.9.1). This last is a loose statement: apparently the three months' interval occurred between the assembly and the notice to depart given to Gulliver by his master, which on this supposition should be dated December 21 or thereabouts. Gulliver was allowed two months to build a boat, but completed its construction in a little more than six weeks (4.10.9, 12). The date given for his departure, February 15, 1715 (4.11.1) is consequently in strict accord with his other statements.
Two passages elsewhere in the text have led to some misunderstanding. Gulliver begins the fourth paragraph of the eighth chapter: "Having lived three Years in this Country, the Reader I suppose will expect that I should, like other Travellers, give him some Account of the Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants…. "In the seventh paragraph of the twelfth chapter, recounting his capture by the Portuguese sailors, Gulliver says, "I told them, I was born in England, from whence I came about five Years ago…. " There is no discrepancy between these two statements. Gulliver was speaking in round numbers. His voyage had lasted more than nine months before he was marooned. He dwelt with the Houyhnhnms precisely three years, nine months, and six days; when he was picked up by the Portuguese, on February 20, 1715, he had been absent from England exactly four years, six months, and eighteen days—a little nearer five years than four. The editor of the edition of 1735, not remembering these facts, emended a passage a little later on (4.11.10), in which Gulliver spoke of his three years' residence in Houyhnhnmland, to read "five years' residence." This mistake persists in many modern editions.
The time-scheme of the first voyage falls into two parts, each detailed and coherent in itself, and not inconsistent with the other. Gulliver sailed from Bristol on May 4, 1699 (1.1.4), and on the return from a prosperous voyage to the Pacific Ocean his ship foundered off the coast of Lilliput on November 5. The year is not stated, but subsequent events show that it was 1700. On the morning after the wreck Gulliver found himself in captivity, and on the next day he arrived at Mildendo. About three weeks later (November 28, approximately) he had learned the language of Lilliput sufficiently well to permit him to converse with the Emperor (1.2.6), and to be partially intelligible to the officers who searched his pockets. Their inventory is dated "the fourth Day of the eighty ninth Moon" of the Emperor's reign (1.2.9). The articles by the terms of which Gulliver gained his freedom are dated "the twelfth Day of the Ninety-first moon" (1.3.18). "Moon," presumably, means a lunar month of twenty-eight days, in which case the date of Gulliver's release came at the end of January or the beginning of February, 1701. "About a Fortnight" later Reldresal made a visit to Gulliver to acquaint him with the political state of the kingdom (1.4.4). Here, in the middle of February, the first series of dates comes to an end: there is no clear indication of the length of time spent by Gulliver in maturing his plan for the attack on Blefuscu and carrying it into effect. A second series of dates begins, however, with Gulliver's capture of the Blefuscudian fleet. The plot against Gulliver broke out "less than two Months" after he had refused to help enslave Blefuscu, which he seems to have done immediately after his great exploit (1.5.4, 5). The ambassadors from Blefuscu arrived in Lilliput "about three Weeks" after their naval disaster (1.5.6), but this period seems to have been overlapped by the two-month interval just referred to, and if this is true it may be ignored in the chronology. A "considerable Person at Court" warned Gulliver of the plot just before it was to have been put into execution, and in consequence Gulliver fled to Blefuscu three days later. The exact date of this flight is fixed by the statement (1.6.19) that Gulliver resided in Lilliput for nine months and thirteen days: he departed, therefore, on August 18, 1701. Reckoning backward about two months (the duration of the plot) gives the middle of June as the time of the falling-out of Gulliver and the Emperor. By this calculation the whole affair of the fleet occupied about four months: but this period may have been shorter if it took Gulliver some time to persuade the Emperor to order the inventory, in which case the dates immediately preceding the naval victory should be set somewhat later.
The remainder of the calendar is straightforward. Gulliver discovered a derelict boat on August 21, three days after his arrival in Blefuscu (1.8.1): he spent ten days in making paddles, and brought the boat into the royal port for repairs (1.8.2). He finished these in "about a Month" (1.8.7), and set sail on September 24, 1701 (1.8.9). Two days later he was picked up by an English vessel, which eventually landed him in the Downs on April 13, 1702.
The chronology of the third voyage is by far the most complex and unsatisfactory. The Hope-well sailed from England on August 6, 1706, and is said to have reached Fort St. George (Madras) on April 11, 1707: here the ship stayed for three weeks, and then spent an unspecified time in sailing to Tongking (3.1.3). Shortly after the arrival in that port Gulliver set out in a sloop, and eighteen days later he was captured by pirates (3.1.4), who set him adrift. Five days later still he was found by the Laputans and taken up into their flying island (3.1.8-10). He learned the language in "about a Months time" (3.2.18), and spent two months there all told (3.4.2). As the date of his departure is given specifically as February 16 (3.4.6), it is possible by reckoning backward two months and twenty-three days to set November 24 as the approximate time of departure from Tongking. Working still farther backward, we find that the voyage from Madras to Tongking occupied the period from the beginning of May to the middle of November: this is perhaps a little long, but not at all implausible. Going forward from February 16 again, Gulliver spent "a few days" with Lord Munodi (3.4.16), and one or two more in the Grand Academy of Lagado. Perhaps a week more was spent in the overland journey of a hundred and forty miles to the port of Maldonada (3.7.1). Gulliver then spent ten days on the island of Glubbdubdrib (3.7.6), and another fortnight in Maldonada waiting for his ship, which carried him to Luggnagg in a month. This all adds up to something over two months, which agrees with the date given for the arrival in Luggnagg—April 21 (3.9.1).
At this point difficulties begin. The year should be 1708, but in the first edition it is 1711, which is clearly wrong. The edition of 1735 made the apparently obvious correction to 1708, ignoring the fact that Gulliver, after what is clearly a short stay in Luggnagg (he had not even time to learn the language), departed for Japan in 1709. One easy way out of the maze is to substitute 1708 for 1707 as the year of the arrival in Madras and 1709 for 1711 as that of the landing in Luggnagg. But this gives an abnormally long voyage from England to Madras,12 and adding a year to the time spent between Madras and Tongking is equally unsatisfactory. For the moment it will be well to adopt 1709 as the year of arrival in Luggnagg and take a fresh start.
The sojourn in Luggnagg, brief as it is, produces its own crux. Gulliver landed on April 21, and left on May 6, 1709 (3.11.4). In the meantime, however, he observes (3.9.7), "I stayed three Months in this Country…. " This statement, which is in a passage not primarily concerned with the chronology, and which is some distance from other statements of that kind, may be due to an oversight in revision: there is no possible way of harmonizing it with the text.
Three weeks after Gulliver's departure from Luggnagg he landed in Japan at the mouth of Tokio Bay (3.11.4). He was immediately sent to Yedo (Tokio), about forty miles away, and his audience with the Emperor probably took place on the following day, May 28. He was then convoyed south by a body of troops on the march to Nangasac (Nagasaki), in which city he arrived on June 9, 1709, "after a very long and troublesome Journey." The distance, by Moll's map, is over five hundred miles: in actual fact it is a good deal greater. The average daily distance traveled would therefore have been more than forty miles—a practical impossibility if much of the trip was made overland. But as Yedo and Nagasaki are on different islands, some of the traveling, and perhaps most of it, must have been by sea.
From Nagasaki Gulliver sailed to Amsterdam in the Amboyna, and thence to England in a small vessel. According to the first edition, the landing in Amsterdam took place on April 16, 1710, and the arrival in England on April 10 (3.11.6, 7). Some editors have assumed a simple transposition of these dates by the printer: others have preferred to change the second date to April 20. It seems more likely that this is another instance of a compositor's error like that conjectured at the beginning of the second voyage: if so, the true date of the debarkation at Amsterdam was April 6, and the similarity between "sixth" and "sixteenth" led to the confusion in the mind of the typesetter.
The final difficulty with the chronology of this voyage is found in the last paragraph, which stated, in the first edition, that Gulliver's absence from England had been for "Five Years and Six Months compleat." The elapsed time from August 5, 1706, to April 10, 1710, is a little over three years and eight months. The mistake suggests one possible reason which may underlie all the chronological discrepancies of the voyage. It is worth remarking that the other serious errors occur in the ninth and tenth chapters, which are concerned with Luggnagg. If in the original draft the voyage had been intended to occupy over five years, and especially if a visit to another country had intervened between the stay in Balnibarbi and the visit to Luggnagg, then the date "1711" (3.9.1) and the other and lesser discrepancies in these chapters are easily explained as oversights in revision. The explanation is tempting, but it must be admitted that there is no external evidence to support it.
Only one statement remains to be discussed. "Thus, Gentle Reader," says Gulliver at the beginning of the twelfth chapter of the last voyage, "I have given thee a faithful History of my Travels for Sixteen Years, and above Seven Months." Here, at least, Swift was on his guard: the voyage to Lilliput began on May 4, 1699; the final return to England took place on December 5, 1715. This accuracy is more characteristic of Swift's dealing with time in the Travels than is the carelessness which is evident in a few places at the end of the third voyage. One possible explanation of the major discrepancies has already been proposed, but of course any or all of these, as well as the trifling mistakes, may have been due to copyists or typesetters. Swift's complaints in the Letter to Sympson have a ring of sincerity: "I find likewise, that your Printer hath been so careless as to confound the Times, and mistake the Dates of my several Voyages and Returns; neither assigning the true Year, or the true Month, or Day of the Month: and I hear the original Manuscript is all destroyed, since the Publication of my Book." (Par. 4.) The natural question, of course, is: If this was the case, why did not Ford include the correct dates in his list of emendations, or in his corrected copy of the first edition? To this there can be no positive answer: the most probable is that the errors had already crept into the manuscript, which Ford followed mechanically in his collation, not concerning himself even with the most glaring chronological inconsistencies. There is at least some evidence for this in the fact that he passed over the date "1711," in 3.9.1, and the obvious contradiction of dates at the end of the third voyage which brought Gulliver home six days before his intermediate sojourn in Amsterdam.
1 Craik, Sir Henry, Selections from Swift, London, 1893, pp. 441-4.
2Gulliver's Travels (ed. Dennis), in the notes, passim.
3Gulliver's Travels (ed. Williams), pp. lxxix, lxxx.
4Gulliver's Travels (ed. Williams), pp. 459-90 passim.
5 "The Geography of Gulliver's Travels" J.E.G.P., 40.214 (1941).
6 See Williams, Harold, Dean Swift's Library, Cambridge, 1932.
7Correspondence, 3. 134, 137; The Letters of Swift to Ford, pp. 36-7.
8 This map, which is included in various atlases, was apparently the most recent Moll map of the world at the time when Swift began the composition of the Travels, though an examination of other Moll maps between 1709 and 1745 indicates that the cartographer made no changes in his data during this period which would have affected Gulliver's geography.
Frederick Bracher has recently published (Huntington Library Quarterly, 8.1.59 ) an article entitled "The Maps in Gulliver's Travels," in which he shows that the artist who drew the maps in the first edition used Moll's map of 1719. He agrees with the present author that neither Swift nor any of his friends was in any way responsible for the 1726 maps with their numerous errors, and gives reasons for believing that they were drawn by John Sturt and engraved by Robert Sheppard.
9 The map of the Gulliverian hemisphere in this volume is based on Moll's map of the world.
10 Moore, John R., "The Geography of Gulliver's Travels," J.E.G.P., 40.217-20 (1941).
11Gulliver's Travels (ed. Dennis), p. 295, note.
12 The late Professor Walter Graham pointed out to me that eight months (as indicated in the first edition) was the normal time for a voyage from England to India, according to the eighteenth-century records of the East India Company.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428
Brown, Laura. "Reading Race and Gender: Jonathan Swift." In Critical Essays on Jonathan Swift, edited by Frank Palmeri, pp. 121–40. New York: G.K. Hall, 1993.
Examines the presence of both anti-imperialist and mysogynist, or anti-woman, sentiment in Gulliver's Travels.
Carnochan, W. B. "Some Roles of Lemuel Gulliver." Texas Studies in Literature and Language V, No. 4 (Winter 1964): 520–29.
Contends that Gulliver's Travels cannot be read as a psychological novel of personal transformation, arguing that the character of Gulliver displays change only when he consciously adopts a role and not because he has undergone personal growth.
Crane, Ronald S. "The Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos, and the History of Ideas." In Reason and the Imagination: Studies in the History of Ideas, 1600–1800, edited by J. A. Mazzeo, pp. 231–53. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962.
Disputes many critical assessments of the meaning of Gulliver's fourth voyage, suggesting that Swift intended not to confirm but to discount the definition of human beings as rational animals.
Ewald, William Bragg, Jr. "The Character of Lemuel Gulliver." In The Masks of Jonathan Swift, pp. 124–41. 1954. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967, 203 p.
Examines the character of Gulliver as a vehicle for satire. Ewald contends that Gulliver is a flawed hero who is nevertheless capable of recognizing and striving for high ideals.
Foster, Milton P. A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1961, 319 p.
A collection including many seminal essays on the fourth voyage of Gulliver's Travels.
Hawes, Clement. "Three Times round the Globe: Gulliver and the Colonial Discourse." Cultural Critique, No. 18 (Spring 1991): 187–214.
Analyzes Gulliver's Travels as Swift's satiric response to the discourse spurred by Britain's colonial expansion and participation in the slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Monk, Samuel H. "The Pride of Lemuel Gulliver." The Sewannee Review LXIII, No. 1 (January-March, 1955): 48–71.
Argues that while Swift did not accept the Enlightenment belief in the perfectibility of humankind, he has been wrongly assigned the designation of misanthrope. Monk maintains that critics and biographers have mistakenly attributed to Swift the pessimism of his fictional character Gulliver.
Nicolson, Marjorie. "The Scientific Background of Swift's Voyage to Laputa" In Science and Imagination, pp. 110–54. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1956.
Examines the third voyage in Gulliver's Travels as Swift's critique of the science and mathematics of his time.
Price, Martin. Swift's Rhetorical Art. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1953, 117 p.
Close study of Swift's use of rhetorical devices to convey satiric intent.
Additional coverage of Swift's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 3, 9, 95, and 101; Literature Criticism from 1400–1800, Vol. 1; and Poetry Criticism, 9.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7468
SOURCE: "Swift's Yahoo and the Christian Symbols for Sin," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XV, No. 2, April, 1954, pp. 201-17.
[Below, Frye discusses ways that Swift's characterization of the Yahoos reflects eighteenth-century Protestant dogma equating the misuse and abuse of reason with sin.]
Swift's treatment of the Yahoo in the fourth book of Gulliver's Travels has been the center of a prolonged critical controversy. Involving and epitomizing as it does the so-called "misanthropy" of Swift, this controversy has a significance which extends beyond the particular work in question, although that is significant enough in itself. Merrel D. Clubb, who has traced the history of the controversy, writes that "the longer one studies Swift, the more obvious it becomes that the interpretation and verdict to be placed on the 'Voyage to the Houyhnhnms' is, after all, the central problem of Swift criticism."1
The Yahoo was, of course, a controversial figure even in the eighteenth century, but Clubb significantly sees the principal deluge of anti-Yahooism as coming between the years 1800 and 1914.2 For example, he quotes De Quincey as saying that Swift's "own yahoo is not a more abominable one-sided degradation of humanity, than is he himself."3 Again, we have Thackeray's well-known lecture on Swift, in which the post-Romantic attitude is crystallized in its typical form:
As for the moral [of the fourth voyage], I think it horrible, shameful, unmanly, blasphemous…. It is Yahoo language: a monster gibbering shrieks, and gnashing imprecations against mankind,—tearing down all shreds of modesty, past all sense of manliness and shame; filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene.4
To the post-Romantic mind, largely divorced as it was from the main stream of Christian realism, and in good part given over to the exaltation of man, Swift's Yahoo as a filthy monster might very well seem "blasphemous."5
Much has been made of Swift's misanthropy. He has been accused of having a diseased mind and the Yahoo has been presumed to be a reflection of his mental disorder. It is undeniably true that Swift regarded man's nature as depraved, his unaided conscience as a blind guide, and his carnal reason as an imperfect instrument—witness his sermons "On the Testimony of Conscience" and "On the Trinity." If such views are sufficient to establish misanthropy, however, then some of the greatest figures of the Christian tradition will keep Dean Swift company on the anthropophile's Index Librorum Prohibitorum. As an effective satirist, Swift was of course writing with overemphasis and with unusual intensity, and this is perhaps one reason his position has seemed more extreme than that of other men of similar views whom we regard as moderate because their mode of expression allowed of moderation. The purpose of this paper, however, is not to add to the present long list another subjective reaction to Swift's view of man, but is rather to explore the relation between one of his imaginative creations, the Yahoo, and that traditional view of human nature which is known as Christian anthropology. By examining the terminology, the symbols, and the typical phraseology of this tradition, as it is found both in the Bible and also in the homiletic and admonitory literature of Christianity, we will be better able to understand both Swift's intention and his rhetoric in creating the Yahoo as a filthy, depraved, and thoroughly repulsive figure.
Gulliver's Travels was published in a period of flux so far as theology and religious symbolism were concerned. In his valuable study, "On the Philosophical Background of Gulliver's Travels," T. O. Wedel summarizes the matter as follows: "In theological terms, what was happening of course was the avowed or tacit denial of the doctrine of original sin. Human nature was being absolved of corruption. The ancient Christian faith, in the words of Pascal, had rested on but two things, 'the corruption of nature and the redemption by Jesus Christ.' Half at least of Pascal's formula is seldom spoken of after 1700."6 When Wedel says that original sin "is seldom spoken of after 1700," he is undoubtedly implying a comparison with the preceding century and a half of English Protestantism. That the doctrine was by no means an unfamiliar one is indicated by the following statement which appeared in The Tribune of Dublin in 1719:
The Corruption of Human Nature is a Text that has so long been preached upon, that one might justly conclude the Subject long since exhausted. Yet it continues still to be a darling Theme, not only among some loose and profligate Writers, with a View to dissolve the natural Obligations to Virtue; but likewise by great Numbers of grave and orthodox Divines, who have held it forth as a doctrine of the utmost Importance in Religion, and the Belief of it, absolutely necessary to denominate a Man a good Christian.7
Although the conception of original sin was certainly not lost, its popularity had entered upon a decline even in Swift's day, a decline which was to be accelerated with the passage of time. Of equal importance is the fact that even when the idea of natural depravity was retained and emphasized, it gradually lost the symbols traditionally associated with it. In order to understand the Yahoo fully, it is necessary, as we shall see, to keep these symbols in mind.
As a professional clergyman, Swift may rightly be assumed to have had an intimate acquaintance with these symbolic vehicles of orthodox thought. Indeed, it would be illogical to expect him to approach the problem of human nature and human sin in terms of what we currently think of as the lay mind. His training, as well as the daily field of his duties, required serious thinking upon these problems and upon their Biblical base, thinking which might not be encountered to the same degree among his purely literary confrères. That such a personal background, and sincere personal convictions, should have found expression in Swift's satire ought not to surprise us. Thus if we observe the reactions of those for whom these traditional symbols retained vividness and truth, we discover a sympathetic understanding of Swift's intentions in creating the Yahoo. Surely Deane Swift, the biographer of his cousin Jonathan, is well qualified to elucidate this matter, and he declares that the fourth book was conceived in Christian terms. Indeed, he says, the author was fulfilling his duties as "a preacher of righteousness" and "a watchman of the Christian faith" when he described the Yahoo:
And shall we condemn a preacher of righteousness, for exposing under the character of a nasty unteachable Yahoo the deformity, the blackness, the filthiness, and corruption of those hellish, abominable vices, which inflame the wrath of God against the children of disobedience….?8
John Hawkesworth, in his 1755 edition of Gulliver, points to the same interpretation:
Whoever is disgusted with this picture of a yahoo, would do well to reflect, that it becomes his own in exact proportion as he deviates from virtue, for virtue is the perfection of reason: the appetites of those abandoned to vice are not less brutal and sordid than that of a yahoo for asses flesh, nor is their life a state of less abject servility.9
Furthermore, we find that John Wesley in his Doctrine of Original Sin (1757) quotes at great length from the "Voyage to the Houyhnhnms" in order to describe man's depravity.10 In their interpretations, Deane Swift, Hawkesworth and Wesley place the fourth book within its intended frame of reference, having understood its traditional symbolism. My task here is to discover that symbolism, its sources and traditional applications as Jonathan Swift knew it, and to apply it to his picture of the Yahoo. The result of this study will surely not provide the only frame of reference for the fourth book, but I hope that it will indicate an important avenue of approach.
One point should be made at the outset. In a study such as this one, there can be no attempt to delineate the fully-rounded Christian view of man. It can scarcely be otherwise here, for I am following Swift's treatment of the Yahoo, where the primary concern is with sin and folly. Thus, the "image of God" motif is only incidentally touched upon. Furthermore, the vigorous castigations of the flesh by a number of the theologians whom I quote should not be allowed to stand without some comment, for otherwise an injustice would be done both to these writers and to the tradition of which they are a part. These men were not bigoted, ascetic, or prudish in their attitudes toward man. They were merely using the terms "flesh" and "body" as symbolic vehicles; they were not denying man access to the legitimate outlets for his normal physical drives.
Of Gulliver's Travels, T. O. Wedel says that when "Swift wrote his own treatise to vex the world, scepticism and the belief in the corruption of human nature, nature had given way to rationalism and an optimistic faith in man."11 Mr. Louis Landa suggests that, although it cannot be proved, there is justification for thinking that Swift's sermon "On the Testimony of Conscience" is an oblique answer to Shaftesbury, or at least to some similarly flattering view of man's natural benevolence.12 It would seem reasonable that some such reaction against the growing faith in man's natural goodness lies behind the satiric picture of the Yahoo. Certainly, this is at least implied by Deane Swift when he refers to critics of the Yahoo as "these mighty softners; these kind pretenders to benevolence; these hollow charity-mongers" (p. 220). That Swift regarded theories of natural benevolence as preliminary to moral anarchy, is evidenced by his sermon "On the Testimony of Conscience," as well as by other strains of his work. The result of these theories would be the overthrow of individual honesty and virtue. With this in mind, it would seem quite possible that Swift conceived the "Voyage to the Houyhnhnms" as Christian apologetics, among other things, and that he incorporated into it a sharp satiric attack upon a theologically dangerous doctrine—in this case, upon the conception of man as naturally inclined to goodness. That such an attack would be closely allied with Augustinian theology need not be emphasized. What should be pointed out is that Swift's treatment is thoroughly consistent with certain normative positions of Protestantism in general and of Anglicanism in particular.
Christian symbolism has traditionally used "the flesh" as representative of man's natural propensity towards evil. Bishop Gilbert Burnet, in his Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (1699), writes in support of Article IX, "Of Original or Birth Sin," that "it is certain that in Scripture this general corruption of our nature is often mentioned." He then proceeds to quote nine typical passages which emphasize man's natural proclivity for evil, and concludes in this wise: "The flesh is weak. The flesh lusteth against the spirit. The carnal mind is enmity to the law of God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God: where by flesh is meant the natural state of mankind, according to those words, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."13 Such was the conventional division of man for admonitory purposes, with the spirit as the valuable, redeemable part, and the flesh representing all the natural inclinations to evil which warred against the higher powers.
The most definite and most complete identification of the Yahoo with Gulliver is in terms of the flesh or the body. This is clearly stated when Gulliver is first able to inspect "the beast" at close range. "My Horror and Astonishment are not to be described," he says, "when I observed, in this abominable Animal, a perfect human Figure."14 Later, Gulliver's master among the Houyhnhnms similarly observes that Gulliver "agreed in every Feature of [his] Body with other Yahoos" (pp. 243-44). This perfect correspondence between man and Yahoo in the body is even further emphasized by an elaboration of how they differ. Man differs in having the gift of speech and in having some faculty of reason, even though he does abuse it. There are other minor differences, but throughout the book the reiterated identification is physical. After the episode at the river when he is the object of fleshly desire, Gulliver says "I could no longer deny, that I was a real Yahoo, in every Limb and Feature, since the Females had a natural Propensity to me as one of their own Species."15 The consistent reference is to physical similarities—in short, only one correlation seems valid, that Yahoo is man in "the flesh."
We have seen Bishop Burnet's gloss of this term as indicative of the weakness and evil in man which wars upon the spiritual. Burnet is not alone in this interpretation. Mark Frank (1613-64), who died Master of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and chaplain to Archbishop Selden, glosses I Corinthians 9.27 (subjection of the body) in this way: "And by the 'body' here may be understood either the flesh itself, or the fleshliness of it; the body itself, or the sinful passions and affections rising in it."16 The Rev. John Bradford, a Smithfield martyr of 1555, writes in his "Seventh Meditation" that the body "is to the soul nothing else but a prison, and that most strait, vile, stinking, filthy."17 Another important Smithfield martyr, John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester and Worcester, writes in terms strikingly close to those of Swift. Hooper's description of man "as he is, a vile piece of earth with all his pride and pomp,"18 is similar in thought, though inferior in style, to Swift's "Lump of Deformity, and Diseases both in Body and Mind, smitten with Pride" (p. 280), a passage which Wesley quotes verbatim from Gulliver for use in his treatment of original sin. Again, when Bishop Hooper,19 urging the need for self-examination in the light of Scripture, says that whoever "beholds himself well in that mirror and glass, will find such a deformity and disgraced physiognomy, that he will abhor his own proportion so horribly disfigured," he is even more misanthropic than Gulliver, who made it a practice "to behold my Figure often in a Glass, and thus if possible habituate myself by Time to tolerate the Sight of a human Creature."20 Bradford speaks of the flesh in the conventional terms when he says: "What a charnel-house of stinking carrion is this body and life of wicked man…."21
Jeremie Collier, writing in 1686, treats the same subject in detail. Knowledge, he says, is what sets us "at the greatest distance from the Brutes beneath us," but the mind is hindered in its pursuit of knowledge by "the present constitution of our Bodies."22 Further, the body subjects us to passions which may prevent our examining "things with that deliberation and indifferency which is necessary to the finding out moral Truth" (p. 18). Like Burnet, Frank, Bradford, Hooper and Wesley, Collier makes much of the biblical pronouncements on the flesh, and in treating Romans 8.6 and 13, he writes: "For the Apostle assures us [that] if we live after the Flesh, and make Provision to fulfill the Lusts thereof, we shall die, for to be carnally or sensually minded is death, and that we cannot expect to live hereafter except we mortify the deeds of the Body" (p. 30). Collier is here speaking in soteriological terms, of course, but the use of the body as a symbol for evil is typical.
Collier points out that man debases himself to the level of the brute beasts if he surrenders to the flesh: "… to make the Soul a Slave to the Body; to employ the powers of Reason (the Image of the Glorious God) in providing for the gratification of the Animal Life; is a most degenerous and dangerous abuse of so great a privilege: And when God hath made us little lower than the Angels, ought we not to blush to make our selves less than the Beasts that perish?" (pp. 28-29). A glance through earlier theologians reveals the deep roots of this tradition. Writing to the same effect in 1633, Matthew Griffith expresses the human dichotomy in these terms: "Without this body man had bin an Angell; and without this soule but a Brute."23 Bullinger declares that through sin, men "that were like unto God made themselves brutish," while Hooker speaks to the same effect in his Ecclesiastical Polity, and Miles Coverdale translates Erasmus' Enchiridion in these words: "If we incline to the flesh, it maketh us beasts."24
I suggest that these ideas form part of the intellectual background of the fourth book. The human body was traditionally understood to represent man's natural depravity; it is a logical representation of this tradition, therefore, that the Yahoo has "a perfect human figure." According to this view, the Yahoo would then represent those elements in his nature which man must distrust, and which, in Christian terms, he must seek to subdue. The Yahoo is that fleshly element in human nature which cannot be disavowed, which may in fact degrade man to the level of the brute beasts, and which vitiates any argument for the self-redemptive power of human reason and the final efficacy of natural benevolence. As Swift says in his September 29, 1725, letter to Pope: "I have got materials toward a treatise, proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale, and to show it would be only rationis capax."
As Swift indicates, this capacity for reason is what distinguishes man from Yahoo. The Houyhnhnm assembly recognizes in Gulliver "some Rudiments of Reason," and Gulliver at last comes to regard his Portuguese rescuer, Don Pedro, as having "some little Portion of Reason." He is never graced with more than "some Glimmerings of Reason," "some Marks of Reason," and the like, but this is an incontrovertible mark of distinction. Yet even this small pittance is degraded by man. At one point Gulliver quotes the master Houyhnhnm as saying that men seem to make no other use of this "small Pittance of Reason" than "by its Assistance to aggravate our natural Corruptions, and to acquire new ones which Nature had not given us." In the same vein, Gulliver says that his countrymen make "no other Use of Reason, than to improve and multiply those Vices, whereof their Brethren in this Country had only the Share that Nature allotted them."25
Such a view of man's use of reason to corrupt himself and to increase even the ills to which his flesh is already heir can be paralleled in a sermon preached on "the scorner" by Richard Fiddes, whom Swift befriended and whose sermons he possessed. The scorner "studies Vice as an Art," says Fiddes, "and his Thoughts are taken up with enquiring how far the Improvement of it may be carry'd. He affects to be thought the Author of some new Discovery in the Theory of Sin, or to do some eminent Service towards promoting the Practice of it."26 In a striking passage, also cited by Wesley, Gulliver says that although the master Houyhnhnm "hated the Yahoos of this Country, yet he no more blamed them for their odious Qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a Bird of Prey) for its Cruelty, or a sharp Stone for cutting his Hoof. But, when a Creature pretending to Reason, could be capable of such Enormities, he dreaded lest the Corruption of that Faculty be worse than Brutality itself" (p. 232). Quite pertinent to this is another passage from Jeremie Collier's sermon. Having just said (as quoted above) that reason is the image of God in man, he proceeds:
And when God hath made us little lower than the Angels, ought we not to blush to make ourselves less than the Beasts that perish? Now that Sensuality does degrade us in this manner is apparent, it being unquestionably more scandalous and uncreditable to abuse the use of Reason, than to want it; for the one only argues natural incapacity; which because it could not be prevented, is no just reproach to any Being; but the other besides ingratitude to the Donor implies most egregious folly (p. 29).
Mark Frank, discussing the manner in which we, as "men of reason," debase ourselves, writes that "we must both needs confess that we have done brutishly and unreasonably, and cannot but be ashamed we have so unmanned ourselves, and betrayed the very essence and glory of our nature [i.e., the image of God]: not done like men" (p. 429). The basic ideas in these passages are practically identical: The corruption of reason is far more culpable than the absence of it; by perverting his reason, man becomes far more contemptible than a brute beast. This is the ground-work of the whole satire of Part IV, according to Deane Swift, who elucidates the Yahoo by referring to
The reasoning of St. Peter throughout his whole second chapter of his second epistle; that creature man, that glorious creature man, is deservedly more contemptible than a brute beast, when he flies in the face of his Creator by enlisting under the banner of the enemy; and perverts that reason, which was designed to have been the glory of his nature, even the directing spirit of his life and demeanor, to the vilest, the most execrable, the most hellish purposes. And this manifestly appears to be the ground-work of the whole satyre contained in the voyage to the Houyhnhnms (p. 221, italics mine).
He then observes that "Dr. Swift was not the first preacher, whose writings import this kind of philosophy," a statement which he buttresses by citing biblical uses of bestial symbolism (II Esdras 8.29-30; Isaiah 56.10-12; Philippians 3.2; I Corinthians 15.32; Matthew 3.7; Titus 1.12-13; Revelation 22.14-15; Matthew 7.15 and 10.16).
Thus we may say of the Yahoo that he represents "the flesh," or, as Matthew Griffith, quoted above, says of man without a soul, that "he is but a brute." Whole man, on the contrary, is flesh plus reason. Both are joined together in him and interact the one upon the other; such was the traditional conception. Man has a spirit, "the only seat of our understanding and reason," as Bishop Peter Browne (c. 1661-1735) describes it, which should govern the flesh, containing "those bodily appetites which are common to us with brutes."27 Actually, however, the reverse is too frequently the case, so that the flesh "often drags the spirit with it, to wallow in the mire."28 Thus it is that man's lower elements are responsible for corrupting his spiritual and rational faculties. Between the two there can be nothing but enmity until "the absolute conquest of the one or the other."29 In this conflict, the relevance of the Yahoo to the human dilemma becomes quite apparent.
The Yahoo may not only be related to Christian symbolism of the flesh, but may also be seen as embodying many of those elements of filth and deformity which are emblematic of sin throughout the Scriptures, beginning with the Levitical pollutions and carrying on far into the New Testament. Nor did Swift introduce the literary employment of dung, deformity and corruption, as is evident if we recall terms used in Milton's descriptions of Sin in Paradise Lost, and in Spenser's stripping of Duessa in The Faerie Queene.30 To illustrate the vitality of this tradition in England, let me begin with three examples from the pulpit. I submit that if Swift had been guilty of any one of these statements, it would have been cited innumerable times as proof of his diseased outlook. In one of his Lincoln's Inn sermons, John Donne describes man's condition in this way: "Between that excremental jelly that thy body is made of at first, and that jelly which thy body dissolves to at last; there is not so noisome, so putrid a thing in nature."31 Such, according to Donne, is man's mortal condition. Writing in 1667, B. Agas describes the godless who professed to be Christians: "As dross among Gold, or as scum upon a pot, such are these, a meer filth among the pure professors. They are the Gospels reproach and Religions shame, equally disgracing both the one and the other, as a dead blasted limb a living Body, or as a loathsome leperous scab a beautiful face."32 In the same vein, Jeremie Taylor (1613-67) asks in his Contemplation of the State of Man: "What is man but a vessel of dung, a stink of corruption, and, by birth, a slave of the devil?"33 Filth is employed in each of these three passages, in two of which terms for excrement are used. Two also employ a noisome or stinking smell as characteristic of evil, while a third adds the deformity of body and of face.
In Scripture, many passages can be found which reveal this type of terminology for sin. I quote only a few characteristic ones. In Psalms 14.3 we read that "they are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one." Much of the same idea is found in Job 15.16: "How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh inquity like water?" In Ezekiel 24.13, the prophet carries this message to the sinful people of Jerusalem: "In thy filthiness is lewdness." As for the symbolism of deformity, Isaiah 1.6 describes the corrupt Israelites in these terms: "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." The frequent New Testament admonitions to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness" of sin need not be enumerated, as they are well enough known to come to the mind merely by suggestion.
These Biblical uses of filth and deformity indicate the importance of the concept. It is in these terms that Donne, Agas, and Taylor must be understood in the passages quoted above. Archbishop Tillotson (1630-94), in the first of a series of sermons entitled The Shamefulness of Sin, treats the theme in a somewhat similar fashion: "The natural Ruggedness and Deformity of Sin and Vice render it very shameful…. How strangely do we see Men concerned with all their Diligence and Skill, to cover and palliate any Defect or Deformity in their Bodies…. Now in regard of our Souls and better part, Sin hath all the monstrousness and deformity in it, which we can imagine in the Body, and much more…. "34 Although he does not use bodily deformity as a direct symbol for sin here, Tillotson does draw his parallel very close.
Writing in 1659 on Job 15.16 ("How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?"), Anthony Burgess glosses the text in such a way as to illustrate the employment of filth, stench, and the like as symbolic for sin: "The property is two-fold, abominable, even as a carkass is abominable that hath lost the soul which did animate it, so is man being made carnal and natural, having lost the Spirit of God and his image; Abhominable [sic], that denoteth such loathsomeness that we cannot endure to behold or come near the object loathed, that we cannot endure the sight of it…. "The last clause is strikingly similar to the view of many readers who see the Yahoo as denoting "such loathsomeness that [they] cannot endure to behold or come near the object loathed, that [they] cannot endure the sight of it." This is surely one of the reactions which Swift wished to elicit—assuming that the reader would go on to make Burgess' connection of loathesomeness with sinfulness:
Thus man is abominable and loathsome in the eyes of God, and he ought to be so in his own eyes, to his own self, a natural man should not be able to bear or endure himself, because of that loathsome sinfulness that doth adhere to him: how much are Pelagian-Doctrines that cry up a purity in man's nature, contrary to this Text? … The second property attributed to man is filthy: The Hebrew word is only used here, and Psal. 14.3 and Psal. 53.3. Concerning the root of it, there is no certainty, only it is generally translated that which is putrid rotten and stinking, because rotten and putrifying things are unuseful and unprofitable.35
William Beveridge (1637-1708), Bishop of St. Asaph, in his outline of a sermon on the admonition of II Corinthians 7.1 to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit," says that by filthiness St. Paul meant sinfulness, and refers to James 1.21 and to II Peter 2.22 as examples of such symbolism. Again, he says the lust of the flesh brings vengeance upon "the body; witness the stinking breath, loathsome botches, inflamed blood, putrefied flesh…. " Further, uncleanness "razeth out the image of God, and stampeth the image of beasts upon us."36 Matthew Griffith comes even closer to the Yahoo when he says: "Could I character or you but conceive a man in pure naturals, you would not take him for a man but for some monster" (p. 153). It is in this sense, and not in Edward Young's, that Swift has made "a monster … of the human face divine."
Peter Browne, Bishop of Corke and Ross, follows the well-established symbolic system in a sermon on the cleansing blood of Christ. He carefully develops the idea that it is impossible for us to understand before the judgment how our souls have been polluted or how Christ will purify them, and so we resort to "a form of speaking," and he says that "the holiest person in the world is all over leprous, filthy and abominable in the sight of God, till he is washed in the blood of the lamb," thus expressing the intangible in terms of the concrete.37 Again, he says that "vice and wickedness have a direct tendency, even in this life to wrest our lineaments." After the resurrection the wicked will be able to see this in themselves and "shall appear in their own eyes the most detestable and loathsome of all beings, terrified with their own deformity."38
In the third part of his sermon entitled "The Apples of Sodom," Jeremie Taylor describes the sin of concealing sin in terms of filth, ugliness and disease. Concealment and hypocrisy "are the covers of our shame, like menstrous rags upon a skin of leprosy: but so sometimes we see a decayed beauty besmeared with a lying fucus, and the chinks filled with ceruse."39 Mark Frank writes that, in view of our sins, " … those lips, which we cry up for sweetness, would stink in our conceit with rottenness; the teeth that look white as ivory, we should behold black with calumny and slander, as the soot of the foulest chimneys; … the hands that look so white and delicate, would appear filthy, bloody, and unclean" (p. 135).
Another significant treatment of filth and defilement in terms of sin is found in an interesting book by the nonconformists Benjamin Keach and Thomas Delaune, entitled A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors (1682). In a section on the metaphorical use of filth we find the following passage:
Sin is compared to an unclean thing, and Man by reason of Sin is said to be defiled; who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? … Some things are so unclean and filthy, that they defile every thing they touch. Sin is such an Uncleanness; who can touch it, meddle with it, and not be defield by it? … Some Uncleanness is so loathsome, that it causes such things to stink, as come near it; Sin makes the Sinner stink, his Person stink, his Life stink, and his Services and Prayers, and all his best Actions to stink in the Nostrils of God.40
In another section, Keach and Delaune write to somewhat the same effect: "By Mud, Dirt, and other Filth the Members and Apparrel of a man are polluted and contaminated; which contamination is brought frequently to denote the Filthy nature of sin, Esa. 64.6; 2 Cor. 7.1; Eph 5.27; Tit 1.15; 2 Pet. 2.10, 20 (with ver. 13,22); Jud. ver. 23; Jam. 1.21; Rev. 3.4."41
Scripturally, this employment of deformity or filth or both as symbols for sin seems to go back to the ceremonial pollutions which are proscribed in Leviticus. Discussing these in his essay "Of the Guilt and Defilement of Sin" (1740), Isaac Watts writes that God would not allow those to come into His presence
… whose Hearts or Lives are defiled (that is) under sinful Disorders. This was typified by the Levitical Pollutions of old, when some bodily Defilements excluded the Israelites from the Camp, and the Tabernacle where God dwelt … to shew that the disorderly Nature of Sin made Persons unfit to converse with God. Thus all the ceremonial Pollutions of the Jews typify'd one of these two, either the Guilt of Sin, or its Disorder and Vitiosity.42
In the same essay, Watts adds:
The Defilement therefore appears evidently to be nothing but a Figure of Speech borrowed from material things, whereby either the Guilt or the Disorder of Sin, the relative or real Evil of it are represented (pp. 426-7).
Frank elucidates the symbolism in the same way: "Wheresoever is deformity, or whatsoever is deformed, it is sin that caused it, or sin that is it."43
These examples of the use of filth and deformity to symbolize man's sin and imperfection could be multiplied. I have chosen only a few typical ones for my purpose, and I wish now to turn to Swift's use of the same traditional material. First, however, it should be made clear that there is no question of establishing any of the foregoing as sources for any part of Gulliver's Travels. The tradition here illustrated, a tradition which employed filth and deformity as symbolic of sin, was part and parcel of the intellectual climate in and before Swift's time, and I suggest that it is within such a frame of reference that we should read Swift's description of the Yahoo.
It is not necessary to debate whether a discharge of excrement upon the head would be regarded as defilement in the Biblical sense. Such, at any rate, is Gulliver's first greeting from the Yahoos. But even before this incident, while he is still more or less unbiased in his outlook, Gulliver remarks that the Yahoo is an "ugly Monster," "singular, and deformed," for whom he immediately conceives a strong antipathy, "full of Contempt and Aversion." They are "detestable Creatures," and he has never seen "any sensitive Being so detestable on all Accounts." The chosen leader of the herd is "more deformed in Body and mischievous" than any of the rest. The Houyhnhnms describe all evil things in terms of "the Deformities or ill Qualities of the Yahoos," who are "the most filthy, noisome and deformed Animal which Nature ever produced." The use of deformity and monstrosity as exemplified in these quotations is spread throughout the book. So, also, is the use of filth. The Yahoo has a "strange Disposition to Nastiness and Dirt; whereas there appears to be a natural Love of Cleanliness in all other Animals." They are "those odious Animals," or "an odious Animal," or "odious Vermin," or "so vile an Animal" with "odious Qualities" and a "most offensive Smell"44 It should not be necessary to expand the list, for it is about such passages as these that the furor of controversy has raged. The point is, that both implicitly and explicitly, such employment of deformity and filth by Swift the artist coincides with the symbolism of natural pravity and actual sin as employed by the theologians. The very words used by Swift in describing the Yahoo are throughout strikingly like—and frequently identical with—those used by the theologians in treating "the flesh" and the sins to which it incites man. Compare with Swift's terms, as summarized above, these words already quoted from the theologians: deformity, brute, beast, animal, monster, excremental, dung, filth, stink, noisome, putrid, vile, loathsome, detestable. Such a close convergence cannot be explained away as fortuitous.
The correspondence, however, can be drawn even closer. The Yahoos may be seen, in almost every aspect of their being, in terms of the laws of pollution in the Old Testament. The food of the Yahoos, with certain exceptions (roots, berries, fish), is definitely polluting. Let us analyze their diet. They eat asses' flesh, battle for the possession of a dead cow, feed upon "the corrupted Flesh of Animals" and other carrion, kill and devour cats and dogs, as well as "Weasels and Luhimuhs (a Sort of wild Rat)."45 Each one of these delicacies is proscribed as polluting under the Levitical code. Leviticus 11.3 prohibits the eating of asses' flesh, and in the thirty-ninth and fortieth verses of the same chapter the consumption of any meat from a dead carcass, whether that of a clean or unclean animal, is forbidden. The twenty-seventh verse declares that cats and dogs are unclean. Finally, weasels and rodents are prohibited in the twenty-ninth verse.46 Thus we see that in diet the Yahoos are guilty of those defilements "whereby either the Guilt or the Disorder of Sin … are represented."
Of further relevance is the fact that the Yahoos are themselves described in such a way as to subject them by their very nature to the Levitical proscription. Leviticus 11.27 declares unclean "whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean to you: whosoever toucheth their carcass shall be unclean until the even." The connection is made much clearer by Bishop Simon Patrick's 1698 commentary on this text: "Leviticus 11.27. And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, etc.] Hath feet with fingers like unto a hand; for so it is in the Hebrew, Whatsoever goeth upon his hands: Such as the Ape, the Lion, the Bear, Dogs and Cats, etc. whose forefeet resemble hands: These might neither be eaten, nor their carcases touched, without incurring uncleanness until Sunset."47 Had the Yahoo been created earlier, he might have been included in the bishop's exegetical list. He certainly meets all the qualifications.
What are we to conclude on the basis of the evidence cited here? I certainly would not suggest that the system of symbols and metaphors which I have outlined above is the only frame of reference within which the Yahoo should be studied and interpreted. There are influential thinkers outside the main stream of Christian realism—for example, Montaigne and Charron in France, and Hobbes in England—whose views of the nature of man are in the climate of opinion which influenced Swift. The contributions of those men are well known, and need no development here. Without depreciating the importance of these and other considerations, however, I do suggest that for a full understanding of Swift's intent we must keep in mind the basic and striking similarities between the Yahoo as he is presented in Gulliver and the picture of human sin and corruption as painted by the theologians. The Yahoo in his physical resemblance to man suggests the original depravity of man's nature which is called "the flesh," which can degrade man to the level of the brute beasts, and against which all must war. At the same time, the Yahoo suggests through his deformity and filth the breaking forth of that propensity towards sin into the commission of actual sins. I do not argue for exact correspondence so much as for artistic adaptation of theology to Swift's purposes.
Clearly, the correspondence between Swift's descriptions and these symbols of Protestant-Christian theology is too close to have been fortuitous. If Thackeray and others who have been sickened by Swift's imagination had carried their studies back into the expressions of well-known theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they would have avoided a needless misunderstanding both of the Yahoo and of Swift. Certainly, Hawkesworth, Deane Swift, and Wesley understood this important element of the Yahoo's meaning, as we have seen from their remarks on the subject. Indeed, Gulliver states the case when he says: "I had some Rudiments of Reason, added to the natural Pravity of those Animals."48 What Swift has done is to appropriate ready-made symbols and a Christian rhetoric apt for his purposes, which he has embodied in a fantasy and elevated to the level of great art.
1 Merrel D. Clubb, "The Criticism of Gulliver's 'Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,' 1726-1914," Stanford Studies in Language and Literature (1941), 206-7.
2 Ib., 219.
3The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey, ed. David Masson (Edinburgh, 1890), XI, 14. Quoted in Clubb, 223.
4 W. M. Thackeray, English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, 1st ed. (New York, 1853), 37. Quoted in Clubb, 221.
5 Thus, in his Nature and Destiny of Man (London, 1946), I, 100-1, Reinhold Niebuhr writes that "no cumulation of contradictory evidence seems to disturb modern man's good opinion of himself. He considers himself the victim of corrupting institutions which he is about to destroy or reconstruct, or of the confusions of ignorance which an adequate education is about to overcome. Yet he continues to regard himself as essentially harmless and virtuous."
6 Wedel, SP, XXIII (1926), 441.
7The Tribune, no. 20 (Dublin, 1719). I am indebted to Mr. Louis Landa for this quotation and also for helpful suggestions and encouragement throughout.
8 Deane Swift, An Essay upon the Life, Writings, and Character of Dr. Jonathan Swift (London, 1755), 219.
9 John Hawkesworth, ed., The Works of Jonathan Swift … (London, 1755), I, 217.
10 John Wesley, Works (New York, 1856), V, 510-12. I am indebted to Canon Wedel for this citation.
11 Wedel, 447.
12 Louis Landa, ed., Swift's Irish Tracts and Sermons (Oxford, 1948), 114.
13 Gilbert Burnet, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London, 1850), 132. Scriptural quotations are from Matt. 26.41; Mark 14.38; Gal. 5.17; Rom. 8.7-8; and John 3.6.
14Gulliver's Travels, ed. Herbert Davis and Harold Williams (Oxford, 1941), 213-14. All references are to this edition.
15Gulliver's Travels, 251. For other such physical identifications, see 219, 221, 222, 256, 262.
16 Mark Frank, Sermons (Oxford, 1859), I, 402. See also 411.
17 John Bradford, Writings (Philadelphia: British Reformers Series, n.d.), 412. See also Henry Bullinger, The Decades (Cambridge, 1849-51), IV, 386, and Archbishop Edwin Sandys, Sermons (Cambridge, 1841), 447.
18 John Hooper, Writings (Philadelphia: British Reformers Series, n.d.), 78.
19 A discussion such as this necessitates a topical treatment, and it has frequently been impossible for me to cite authorities in a strictly chronological order, as I should have wished to do. Thus we move from Hooper to Wesley and back to Hooper.
20 Hooper, 76; Gulliver's Travels, 279; italics mine.
21 Hooper, 257-8. See also John Calvin, The Institute of the Christian Religion, II, i, 8; Bishop Joseph Hall, Devotions (London, 1846), 452; and Richard Fiddes, Practical Discourses (London, 1713), I, 97.
22 Jeremie Collier, The Difference between the Present and Future State of Our Bodies (London, 1686), 17.
23 Matthew Griffith, Bethel: or, a Frame for Families (London, 1633), 202.
24 Bullinger, IV, 351; Richard Hooker, Works, ed. John Keble (New York and Phila., 1849), I, 297; Miles Coverdale, Writings and Translations (Cambridge, 1844), 505.
25Gulliver's Travels, 263, 271, 219, 222, 243, and 262. For similar references see 232, 240, 251-2, and 256.
26 Richard Fiddes, Practical Discourses (London, 1713), I, 93.
27 Peter Browne, Sermons (Dublin, 1749), II, 134, 133.
28Ibid., II, 142.
29 Browne, II, 139. See also Frank, I, 404.
30Paradise Lost, II, 650-66, 795-800; X, 629-37, and The Faerie Queene, I, viii, 46-48.
31 John Donne, Works (London, 1839), IV, 231.
32 B. Agas, Gospel Conversation, with a short Directory Thereunto (London, 1667), 47.
33 Taylor, The Whole Works (London, 1880), I, 396.
34 John Tillotson, Sermons (London, 1700), VIII, 151-52.
35 Anthony Burgess, The Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1659), 439.
36 William Beveridge, Thesaurus Theologicus (Oxford, 1816), II, 86, 198, and 198 resp.
37 Browne, I, 19-20, and 12.
38 Browne, II, 214.
39 Taylor, I, 729. Other uses of the filthy rag symbol may be found in Thomas Becon, Writings, 375 and 380, and John Fox, Writings, 52 (both Philadelphia: British Reformers Series, n.d.). The Biblical source for the symbol is Isa. 64.6.
40 Benjamin Keach and Thomas Delaune, Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors (London, 1682), Bk. IV, 355.
41 Keach and Delaune, Bk. I, p. 131. For a similar treatment, see Andrew Symson, ed. of Thomas Wilson's Complete Christian Dictionarie (London, 1655), s.v. "filth," "filthy," "filthiness" and "to pollute." Also see Browne, II, 288.
42 Isaac Watts, The Ruin and Recovery of Mankind … Whereunto are subjoined Three Short Essays (London, 1740), 422.
43 Frank, I, 422. In addition to the material already cited, see the following: Becon, 336-7; Hooper, 257-8, 342, 351, 407; Richard Baxter, The Saints' Everlasting Rest (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.), 45-6; and summary of attitude, with quotations from Archbishop Ussher and others whom I have not cited, in B. Rajan, "Paradise Lost" and the Seventeenth Century Reader (London, 1947), 81-2.
44Gulliver's Travels, 207-8, 213, 214, 246, 259, 255, 247, 249, 221, 250, 231, 232, and 248. Although I do not maintain that this list is complete, attention is directed to the following passages on characteristic Yahoo traits: Descriptions in terms of filth, stench, odiousness and vileness (in addition to the thirteen references quoted above): 208, 214, 226, 244, 245, 247, 250, 256, 270, 272, 273, and 279; Descriptions in terms of monstrousness, brutishness, and animality: 207, 208, 212, 213, 219, 221, 223, 225, 231, 243, 244, 245, 247, 249, 250, 251, 255, 257, 263, 273, and 280; Descriptions in terms of the deformed, detestable, and contemptible: 207, 208, 213, 214, 220, 221, 222, 226, 227, 244, 245, 246, 255, and 273. Such passages give a coloration to the entire fourth book.
45Gulliver's Travels, 213, 214, 244, 245, 250, and 255.
46 Simon Patrick, Commentary upon Leviticus (London, 1698), 160, 186, and 179, confirms the currency of these interpretations in the age of Swift.
47 Patrick, 179.
48Gulliver's Travels, 263. The implications drawn here will also have relevance for other works of Swift, e.g., the verse and some of the Brobdingnagian descriptions, which have not been discussed in this paper because of the necessity for concentration upon the Yahoos.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6819
SOURCE: "Trompe l'Oeil': Gulliver and the Distortions of the Observing Eye," in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2, Winter 1983/84, pp. 166-80.
[In the following essay, Oakleaf examines how advancements in the capabilities of visual instruments in the eighteenth century destabilized notions of authoritative fixed points of view, causing philosophers, artists, and writers to reevaluate notions of one's ability to observe as well as the inherent bias of personal perspective.]
Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, is obviously an observer. The very title of his narrative appeals to popular interest in observations brought back from voyages of exploration—voyages that represent a geographical conquest of space contemporary with Europe's mathematical conquest of space during the seventeenth-century scientific revolution. Peering through windows and eye glasses and perspective glasses, Gulliver observes both nature and manners. He observes natural curiosities, donating some giant wasp stings to Gresham College. He observes new lands, suggesting alterations to the world's maps. He observes courts and a public execution and a learned society, bringing back the plan of a machine to generate speculative knowledge mechanically. Finally, he publishes his observations, quarrelling with his critics as he does so. No fellow of the Royal Society could do more. Nevertheless, distortion is a more obvious feature of the Travels than the transparent record of experience recommended by that Society. Johnson's dismissive comment that 'once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest' suggests that the book is based on systematic distortion; this implies that its exploration of science goes beyond its specific satire of the Royal Society and Cartesianism in book III.1 Surprisingly often, the Travels confronts the reader with the act of observation itself, emphasizing not only perspective glasses and empirical scepticism about the evidence of the senses but also, centrally, the dislocations of point of view inherent in observation.
A fairer version of Johnson's dismissal is Marjorie Hope Nicolson's suggestion that the two views through a perspective glass, one magnifying and one diminishing, determine the strategy of the first two voyages of the Travels. That perspective glass, however, is untrustworthy because it distorts sense impressions. When Galileo presented the results of his observations, for example, he learned that many men were highly sceptical of the images seen through his strange glass. In the Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton expresses this popular distrust of glasses by calling Galileo and earlier investigators of sight deluding magicians who promise 'to do strange miracles by glasses,' much as a modern sceptic announces that stage magicians somehow do it with mirrors. By Swift's day, this distrust has impressive support in philosophical distrust of the faculty of sight itself. Since the ideal observer sees himself as pure mind confronting an objective order but is nevertheless dependent on sense impressions, the eye occupies the ambiguous boundary between mind and matter. The means of investigation consequently becomes an object of investigation for a long list of distinguished observers. Kepler finally discovered how the eye forms images because he was investigating how far the eye and its instruments might introduce errors into his astronomical calculations. Similarly, Descartes, who also wrote on optics, found it natural to begin his Meditations by doubting the evidence of his senses, while Locke, in opposition to Descartes, based knowledge on sense impressions but therefore asserted the limitations of human knowledge. Indeed, the empiricist distinction between primary qualities existing in objects themselves and secondary qualities created by the act of perception expresses the ambiguity of the eye's mediation between mind and matter. As the Travels often suggests, knowledge of sense impressions can be unreliable even before a glass distorts those impressions.2
Gulliver's Houyhnhnm Master, for example, denies man any clear glass of understanding that accurately reflects truth. He suggests instead 'some Quality fitted to increase our natural Vices; as the Reflection from a troubled Stream returns the Image of an ill-shapen Body, not only larger, but more distorted.'3 In this view, human reason is as naturally distorting as the human body is 'ill-shapen.' Although Gulliver comes to share this view, for reasons I discuss below, one has, so to speak, nagging doubts about the greater appropriateness of a horse's body to the clear glass of reason the Houyhnhnms seem to possess. Nevertheless, Gulliver's Master is a sound Baconian despite his provincialism, for Bacon too recognized the human idolatry that distorts observations:
… as an uneven mirror distorts the rays of objects according to its own figure and section, so the mind, when it receives impressions of objects through the sense, cannot be trusted to report them truly, but in forming its notions mixes up its own nature with the nature of things.4
This echo of St Paul's dark glass is appropriate even in the age of telescopes and microscopes. Newton adopted reflecting telescopes because his work with refraction convinced him of the problems inherent in refracting lenses. Modern research reveals high degrees of spherical aberration—distortion—and chromatic aberration—added colour—in eighteenth-century compound microscopes; that is, they distorted both primary and secondary qualities. Since the eye's instruments are as unreliable as the eye, the imperfect glass still supplies an image of the imperfect understanding.
The observer's dissatisfaction with the eye's weakness and ambiguity is reinforced by his mind's desire to roam more freely than the body permits in search of a more convenient point of view. Since the ambitious observer wants to describe mathematically the configuration of objects with respect to a particular point of view, that convenience is often mathematical. Gulliver's inconvenient description of the motions of the flying island (pp 168-70) reminds us that mathematical convenience is sometimes convenient only to mathematicians, but the tendency to think in terms of their spatial models appears even in unmathematical forms. When Addison describes the delight of experiencing sensations with two senses at once in Spectator no. 412, for example, he compares the interplay of sensations to the way 'the different Colours of a Picture, when they are well disposed, set off one another, and receive an additional Beauty from the Advantage of their Situation':5 he thus translates a complex experience into a purely visual experience of relative positions in space. This suggests that he has assimilated the assumptions of the age of observation, for post-Copernican astronomy similarly but more drastically wrenches the point of view of ordinary experience in order to translate experience into geometrical terms. Although the eye sees the sun go round the earth, we find the equations simpler if we mentally view the solar system from the sun.
Claudio Guillén's study of the history of the notion of point of view relates the conventions of perspective painting not only to the Cartesian split between observer and observed but also to the underlying fiction of a single observing eye located at a fixed point of view. A revealing example of this second notion appears in the Travels when Gulliver sees a Brobdingnagian man's eyes magnified by his glasses and compares them to 'the Full-Moon shining into a Chamber at two Windows' (p 96)! Since it is impossible to see the moon through different windows at the same time, Gulliver's lunatic comparison represents a triumph of theory over observation. Guillén's early examples come from artificial perspective (the linear perspective of painting) rather than natural perspective (optics) or science, but there are many analogies between art and other forms of observation. Like science, art uses glasses to aid observation and uses mathematics to describe the relative positions of objects in space with respect to a particular point of view.6 Art is important in popularizing the notion of point of view because it can play with the artificiality of its conventions more readily than science can. Exploring Guillén's subject, Ernest B. Gilman demonstrates the impact of linear perspective on seventeenth-century English literature. He suggests especially that curious perspectives supplied the conceptual basis of the literary conceit. (Such perspectives exploited the convention of the single fixed eye by presenting two extreme but complementary points of view in a single painting or engraving; Holbein's Ambassadors, in which a second point of view resolves the blur in the foreground into a skull, is perhaps the example most famous today.) Gilman concludes, however, that the eighteenth-century mind was too well balanced to delight in such grotesque games except in the didactic comedy of something like Hogarth's Method of Perspective.7 Johnson's dislike of the conceit, which, like the curious perspective, yoked disparate images by violence together, would seem to support this view, and certainly many eighteenth-century writers yearned for the clear glass of understanding. However, the sceptic might find the interplay of points of view revealing. Writing after the triumph of the scientific revolution based on the perspective glass and the shifting point of view, though, he would have internalized these assumptions, like Addison, and so be less likely to present them as playful novelty. Certainly many of the distortions in the Travels suggest the limitations and distortions of the observing eye.
Despite his correct record of the number and orbits of Mars's moons, most of Gulliver's observations exist on the level of commonplace amusement. Brobdingnag is a microscopist's dream come true, for example, but it is hardly novel. Robert Hooke's Micrographia published engravings of magnified objects in 1665, and even Hooke later lamented the lack of new discoveries through improved telescopes and complained of the microscope that he could 'hear of none that make any other Use of that Instrument, but for Diversion and Pastime, and that by reason it is become a portable Instrument, and easy to be carried in one's Pocket.' By 1730, even the laziest amateur who purchased a Culpepper microscope received with it a set of four ivory slides of prepared specimens: Gulliver's most memorable images of magnified nature—hair, a bit of human skin, and a louse—appeared together on just one of these slides! When Swift himself contemplated buying Stella a pocket microscope in November 1710, he spoke slightingly of 'the common little ones, to impale a louse (saving your presence) upon a needle's point,' and teased her for her trendy interest by calling her a virtuoso. Gulliver's observations are as banal as his very ordinary background.8
His delight in what he sees is partly delight in the distorted—magnified—power conferred by his perspective glass. This appears in his delighted accounts to the King of Brobdingnag and his Houyhnhnm Master of the destructiveness of modern war: the detachment of the distant observer permits his vicarious enjoyment of the power of weapons that act as he looks—from a distance. Similarly, the modern television viewer's detachment permits the disturbing glee evident in many analyses of the success of high-technology weapons in remote conflicts, like that in the Falkland Islands recently. Pat Rogers is surely right to see hypertrophy of the sight in the Travels' many glasses: although the moralist can readily find plain reason why man has not a microscopic eye, the ordinary observer asserts with Descartes that 'there is no doubt that the inventions which serve to augment [the eye's] power are among the most useful that there can be.'9 Since, as Gulliver asserts, 'nothing is great or little otherwise than by Comparison' (p 87), the perspective that magnifies the observed diminishes the observer. In fact, much of the Travels' play with proportions is already implicit in the illustrations in Gaspar Schott's seventeenth-century Magia universalis that show human observers dwarfed by enormous perspective glasses. S. Bradbury traces the interpretation of these impossible 'giant microscopes' as an engraver's error that substituted a whole man for the still-familiar single eye placed at the aperture of such instruments, commenting that the engravings are at odds with the proportions mentioned in the text (Bradbury, Evolution, pp 15-18). What is a 'misreading' from the perspective of a historian of science, however, may, from another perspective, be an interpretation of the new proportion between man and his powerfully augmented sight. Schott treats perspective as one of the magic sciences and devotes a book of his Magia to anamorphosis, a term he may have coined (Baltrušaitis, pp 85-6). Imaginative play with the conventions of art is an appropriate context for engravings of the transformations wrought by the magic of optical instruments that dupe the eye. Gulliver is similarly transformed by the same instruments.
At the heart of what a Baconian would call the commerce of Gulliver's mind with the nature of things are his delight in his disproportionate power and his uncritical reliance on distorted sense impressions. That reliance unsettles his point of view, as do scientific models and the conventions of perspective art. Thus Gulliver is disgusted by the skin of a Brobdingnagian woman he sees nursing her baby but then reconsiders his usual point of view:
This made me reflect upon the fair Skins of our English Ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own Size, and their Defects not to be seen but through a magnifying Glass, where we find by Experiment that the smoothest and whitest Skins look rough and coarse, and ill coloured. (Pp 91-2)
Gulliver's 'only' asserts that it is arbitrary to rely on natural rather than artificial perspective, so to speak. The distortion he sees through the glass is more real to him than what he sees unaided, not simply another perspective on it. The observer's reliance on his sense impressions is a more complex criterion of truth than it seems. Since it is not true that skin defects are visible only under magnification, Gulliver is also vindicating his earlier comment on the weakness of his eyes (p 37) at the same time as he celebrates the power conferred by the glass.
The observer, that is, willingly adopts a point of view at odds with his actual place of observation. In Lilliput, his own relative power becomes more real to him when he adopts an external perspective on himself, wondering that the Lilliputians do not tremble 'at the very Sight of so prodigious a Creature as I must appear to them ' (p 24; my italics). Asserting his power, he prefers the perspective that magnifies him to the equivalent perspective that diminishes his captors. Such self-consciousness seems almost natural to us, but we have become connoisseurs of the chaos imposed by competing points of view. It is more startling in the Travels, in Brobdingnag even more than in Lilliput because Gulliver there adopts a Brobdingnagian perspective but refuses to look at himself. He does bring himself to smile when the Queen places him before a mirror that reflects both of them (p 107), but he usually avoids such glasses (p 147). Although he has been a pygmy among giants, he returns from his second voyage seeing his rescuers as 'little contemptible Creatures' (p 147) and looking on his family 'as if they had been Pigmies, and I a Giant' (p 149). Asserting his power, his chosen point of view increasingly blinds him to himself.
Walter Ong speculates that Gulliver's box in Brobdingnag and other images of insulation and confinement in the Travels express Swift's interest in the scientific conception of the isolated system.10 In this context, it especially suggests his interest in isolated visual fields. The eagle that carries Gulliver's box from Brobdingnag and the other eagles that force it to drop the box are 'observed' (p 145; Swift's italics) by a sailor, but he cannot comment on their size because they are isolated from objects of comparison. A subtler effect of point of view and relative scale appears in Gulliver's glimpse into the palace in Lilliput:
… lying down upon my Side, I applied my Face to the Windows of the middle Stories, which were left open on Purpose, and discovered the most splendid Apartments that can be imagined. There I saw the Empress, and the young Princes in their several Lodgings, with their chief Attendants about them. Her Imperial Majesty was pleased to smile very graciously upon me, and gave me out of the Window her Hand to kiss. (P 47)
Carefully getting close to a tiny passage and peering through small windows, Gulliver presents the commoner's visit to court, complete with splendid apartments, the royal family and their attendants, and a gracious smile from the Queen. Only when the Queen's favour demands putting her hand out of the window does the original discrepancy of scale between observer and observed reassert itself. Although the Queen's point of view is not recorded, it is presumably much like Gulliver's in the parallel scene when a Brobdingnagian monkey suddenly peers into the door and opened windows of Gulliver's cabinet on a scene 'which he seemed to view with great Pleasure and Curiosity' (p 122). The monkey then reaches in its hand to remove a creature little bigger than its finger from the world that gives him an illusion of normal size.
Like magnified images in the Travels, these miniature worlds in boxes suggest seventeenth-century popular amusements, especially the perspective box. Viewers looked into peepholes located at strategically selected points of view that gave the small, flat, anamorphically painted scenes on the walls within an illusion of depth and reality. A modern viewer of the perspective box by Samuel de Hoogstraten that is now in the National Gallery, London, reveals the power of the illusion:
A Dutch domestic interior is painted on the sides and bottom of the box in such a way that when viewed through the peep-hole, the visual discrepancy between the size of the box's painted interior and the real world seems to disappear. A complete miniature environment is created, in which the spatial illusion is wholly convincing. 'In a perspective box,' wrote Hoogstraten, 'a figure no larger than a finger appears to be as large as life.'11
This trompe l'oeil combines the trickery of perspective with a delight in miniature worlds like those literalized in the Travels. Hoogstraten's delight in his illusion, however, depends on the observer's awareness that the convincing miniature environment is just a clever illusion—that one persuasive point of view is at odds with another. Exactly such a comparison between perspectives explains the microscope's popularity as an instrument of diversion. Similarly, Swift's delight in being taken for a trompe-l 'oeil artist depends on a superior second perspective. Arbuthnot tells the story of a sailor who said he knew Gulliver, but the anecdote's playfulness fulness reminds us that the joke depends on separating delight in an illusion from gullible acceptance of the illusion as fact.12
Much of the comedy of the Travels depends on such second perspectives, although the narrator often remains unaware of them in his devotion to his chosen point of view. Queen's hand and monkey's paw mediate between observer and observed. Gulliver emphatically shoves his disproportionate thumb in front of the lens when, in England long after the event, he defends a Lilliputian woman from the charge of an affair with him: his ridiculous pride in being made a Nardac, the Lilliputian equivalent of a Duke, is sufficiently comic, but he could never be as deeply engaged in Lilliputian affairs as this. A second perspective reveals the illusion of the first, as it does more subtly when Gulliver adds a bit of lore about Lilliput's neighbouring kingdom while describing glimigrim, the Lilliputian wine that permits his heroism at the palace fire: 'the Blefuscudians call it Flunec, but ours is esteemed the better Sort' (p 56). That 'ours' presents the transparent recorder as a disproportionate Lilliputian, revealing the absurdity of the perspective he adopts: like the devils in book ÷ of Paradise Lost, what he sees he feels himself now changing. Similarly among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver records his Master's disapproval of purely speculative knowledge, adding that his Master in this 'agreed entirely with the Sentiments of Socrates, as Plato delivers them; which I mention as the highest Honour I can do that Prince of Philosophers' (p 268). In other words, human knowledge is good, but 'ours' is esteemed the better sort. The observer forgets that he can praise the Houyhnhnms by comparing them to Socrates but cannot convincingly reverse that perspective. Resisting natural constraints, the observer's point of view drifts to a place that flatters his sense of power.
The second perspective that reveals the illusion of the first suggests not only the perspective box but those curious perspectives of self-conscious art that supply two views of a single scene, perspectives in which a second glance comments on something viewed at first from a more conventional point of view. In such art, a second glance could reveal Christ's face in the troubled lake at the centre of a print of the Fall, for example (Baltrušaitis, pp 25-7; Gilman, fig 11). The shift in the physical point of view imitates the shift in theological point of view that reads Genesis from the perspective of the New Testament. Gulliver's 'ours' exploits a shift in grammatical point of view for an analogous effect, while his over-serious defence of a Lilliputian woman's honour forces on the observant reader a second perspective more inclusive than the observing narrator's.
The observer is consequently most averse to those glasses that give him a second perspective on himself. Of the glasses in Brobdingnag that give him 'so despicable a Conceit' (p 147) of himself, Gulliver says that he usually avoided them because 'my Ideas were wholly taken up with what I saw on every Side of me; and I winked at my own Littleness, as People do at their own Faults' (p 148). Indeed, the purpose of telescope and microscope was, as it were, to wink at the littleness of the senses; hence celebration of their power and also Pope's late attempt, in An Essay on Man, to celebrate the great chain of being as a corrective to movement up and down the chain by augmented sight. Gulliver finds a double perspective on himself most offensive on his final voyage, where it pulls him down from observing rationality to brute animality:
When I happened to behold the Reflection of my own Form in a Lake or Fountain, I turned away my Face in Horror and detestation of my self; and could better endure the Sight of a common Yahoo, than of my own Person. (P 278)
He rejects the perspective that reveals his 'Person,' his body, because he is not implicated in the sight of a common Yahoo but is implicated in the sight that presents him as, at best, an uncommon Yahoo. That curious perspective yokes by violence together his ugly physical image and his more exalted conception of himself. Although he resists this conceit vigorously, it is inevitable from the moment he looks at a Yahoo and observe[s], in this abominable Animal, a perfect human Figure' (p 230). Indeed, this sudden recognition suggests those aggressive anamorphoses directed at the viewer, like the picture of 'We Three' cited by Feste in Twelfth Night.13 A German example of this popular type of picture (Baltrušaitis, pp 26-7) shows a distorted form at once as ass and a fool in cap and bells, the inscription including the viewer as a third. Yahoos are to the Houyhnhnms what asses are to us; in fact, the Houyhnhnms come to lament that reliance on Yahoo labour makes them neglect the more 'comely' race of asses (p 272). Gulliver is also a fool and once compares himself to 'a tame Jack Daw with Cap and Stockings' (p 265). His recognition of himself in the Yahoo mirrors the moments when the reader uncritically accepts Gulliver's point of view—includes himself in his 'ours'—before recognizing Gulliver's folly and so his own. Such a reader becomes the third party in the image when Gulliver sees humanity in a Yahoo.
The conflicting perspectives of Gulliver's final voyage suggest confusions of a kind for which Locke found an analogy in anamorphic painting. Locke tactfully describes a typical, safely classical example rather than a specific painting, although anamorphic paintings of Charles I were popular among English Royalists after 1649 (Baltrušaitis, p 28). Describing 'a sort of pictures, usually shown as surprising pieces of art, wherein the colours, as they are laid by the pencil on the table itself, … have no discernible order in their position,' Locke argues that the confusion results from the discrepancy between the apparently confused picture and the name attached to it. That name, after all, makes sense only from the second perspective. Lack of symmetry does not make an image confused:
That which makes it be thought confused is, the applying it to some name to which it does no more discernibly belong than to some other: v.g. when it is said to be the picture of a man, or Caesar, then any one with reason counts it confused; because it is not discernible in that state to belong more to the name man, or Caesar, than to the name baboon, or Pompey: which are supposed to stand for different ideas from those signified by man, or Caesar. But when a cylindrical mirror, placed right, had reduced those irregular lines on the table into their due order and proportion, then the confusion ceases, and the eye presently sees that it is a man, or Caesar; i.e. that it belongs to those names; and that it is sufficiently distinguishable from a baboon, or Pompey; i.e. from the ideas signified by those names. Just thus is it with our ideas, which are as it were the pictures of things. (Essay, II.xxix.8)14
Locke is more alert than Gulliver to the dangers of perception and the limitations of imposing a conventional point of view on a novel experience. When he elsewhere postulates 'the idea of the shape of an ass with reason,' for example, Locke simply asserts that this idea would be 'different from either that of man or beast, and be a species of animal between, or distinct from both' (Essay, IV.iv.13; cf III.vi.29). He thus avoids the extremes of literal-minded reliance on appearance and unstable point of view: he assimilates novelty to his usual point of view without denying its novelty.
When Gulliver asserts that the word 'Houyhnhnm … signifies a Horse' despite its more accurate etymological meaning, 'the Perfection of Nature' (p 235), and when he casually refers to men as Yahoos, his confusions take the form of those for which Locke found an analogy in anamorphosis. Unfortunately for simplicity, Locke's approach to the problem of the rational ass is too glib for the final book of the Travels. The Houyhnhnms are, after all, distorted horses and not simply distinct beings; they are horses with a faculty not usually associated with horses—reason, conventionally a human quality—greatly magnified, and animal qualities diminished; so Gulliver, most obviously in the first two books, is a man with one faculty—sight—greatly distorted by perspective glasses. Similarly, Yahoos are men with reason and affection greatly diminished—the observer's body with the observing mind departed for good, as Gulliver would like his mind to do. Observing as a Houyhnhnm, Gulliver forgets to observe the Houyhnhnms. The complementary points of view in Swift's curious perspective are so close together that the result seems blurred rather than simply puzzling. Like the ambiguous eye itself, the Houyhnhnms are borderline creatures, between man and animal, much as the Yahoos, by virtue of their shape, are also at a border between human and animal. Alternatively, these creatures embody diverse perspectives on man, one viewing him (inadequately) as a rational animal and the other (also inadequately) viewing him as a particularly perverse animal, with Gulliver desperately stationed between these perspectives—himself a borderline figure. Both views are sufficiently eccentric, off centre, to cause a distortion very like anamorphosis.
The observer's point of view is the source of this dilemma. Like the resolutely unironic prose espoused by the Royal Society, it asserts a single, 'clear' point of view, a monocular gaze appropriate to the perspective glass or linear perspective. The distortions of the Travels resemble those of self-conscious perspective painting because they—and science—share the same assumptions. Gulliver's final confusions demand not a mirror but binocular vision, an ability to see both man and Yahoo, or Houyhnhnm and Yahoo, in the same image. The Yahoos perhaps have the place in the final book that the anamorphic skull has in The Ambassadors or that an undistorted skull has at the centre of a mirror anamorphosis of Charles I (Baltrušaitis, p 107). They remind man of his animality much as the more conventional skull reminds him of his mortality. The trick Gulliver seems incapable of, because he is too much an observer, is seeing, juxtaposed, both animal and man. His relentlessly single vision, fostered by his reliance on perspective glasses, views Socrates as a member of a different species and himself as a Houyhnhnm. This is all the stranger as the Houyhnhnms embody recognizable human ideals, notably friendship to one's species. In effect, they represent a more traditional point of view than Gulliver, who is blinded by the sense impressions they share with horses. He abandons his species for theirs, as he thinks, but merely affects a whinny in his speech and a trot in his gait (pp 278-9). When he comes to prefer his groom to other Yahoos because of his smell, we recognize that he has abandoned a stable point of view for the point of view of the stable. Because he cannot stand back from the convincing illusion in the perspective box, he cannot see its ludicrously disproportionate container. The final intensity of his vision is analogous to the startling three-dimensionality of rigorous perspective painting, which distorts objects in the interest of a convincing illusion from a fixed point of view.
The extreme development of this detachment of point of view from place of observation is the mind-body dualism of contemporary thought, which so often finds concrete expression in Swift's poetry and prose. Gulliver hates his family, for example, because they force him to consider that he has become a parent of Yahoos 'by copulating with one of the Yahoo-Species'; they consequently fill him with 'the utmost Shame, Confusion and Horror' (p 289). His shame and horror spring from the forced realization of his physical kinship with 'Yahoos' rather than 'Houyhnhnms'; his confusion springs from the discrepancy between the label he would apply to himself and the evidence of the senses that confronts him. The resulting self-loathing, loathing of the self that appears in the glass in contrast to the self that looks through a glass, is the misanthropy resulting from the observer's detachment from his kind. Trying to see as a Houyhnhnm, Gulliver simply worships the idol of a different tribe.
When Gulliver rejects his romantic view of the fair skin of English ladies for the microscope's vision of mottled physicality, he plunges from the ideal into the gross, as he does more complexly when he rejects a human view for a Houyhnhnm view. His fall recalls that in what seems to be one of Swift's favourite stories—that of the philosopher who fell into a ditch while contemplating the stars. That fall, which supplies the witty conclusion to The Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, is repeated by Strephon in 'The Lady's Dressing Room.' Strephon's prying gaze displaces an image of the 'Goddess' for one much filthier, but the poet asserts the need for a double perspective, wishing that Strephon could delight to see 'Such Order from Confusion sprung, / Such gaudy Tulips rais'd from Dung.'15 Even the Houyhnhnms, who are too sexually moderate for either of these extremes, celebrate healthy physicality in their rather Pindaric poetry on the winners of athletic competitions. They also devote poetry to 'exalted notions of Friendship and Benevolence' (p 274), poetry which suggests Swift's tolerant assessment of the Platonism of Charles I's court:
… although we are apt to ridicule the sublime Platonic Nations they had, or personated, in Love and Friendship, I conceive their Refinements were grounded upon Reason, and that a little Grain of the Romance is no ill Ingredient to preserve and exalt the Dignity of human Nature, without which it is apt to degenerate into every Thing that is sordid, vicious and low. (Writings, IV, 95)16
One need not choose between idealizing romance and Hobbes's state of nature: the rosy perspective of romance complements the filthy perspective of the prying gaze and the magnifying glass. Swift's metaphor for idealism is here the salt that preserves corruptible flesh, a minor theme of the Travels,17 but his 'had, or personated' indicates a saving irony based on complementary visions from extreme points of view, an irony that need not take one point of view too literally. Accepting the value even of illusion, the binocular view can avoid not only extreme eccentricity but also the blinkered gaze of the hack who sees only the middle road and so imitates respectably the dangers of the single point of view.
Such a composite point of view may be superior to a single view, but a mind can readily lose its bearings in the constant, dizzying shift from one point of view to another. That may be why a final glass suggests an appeal to a traditional point of view. One of Gulliver's last exercises is 'to behold [his] Figure often in a Glass, and thus if possible habituate [him] self by Time to tolerate the Sight of a human Creature' (p 295). Gulliver stops short of identifying himself with what he observes in this glass and in doing so recalls a biblical glass:
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:23-4)
This echo appeals beyond Gulliver's eccentric point of view to a snared, Christian point of view, at least for readers who share that point of view. Now a point of view detached from its moorings, Gulliver neglects St James's admonition to remember his natural face in the glass: having heard the word of friendship to his species, he retreats to misanthropy by denying the face that identifies that species. Indeed, given the emphasis of the final voyage on friendship and Gulliver's rejection of it, the Travels may recall Bacon's allegorical reading of St James in the essay on friendship (Bacon, pp 80-1), which suggests that a friend is such a glass to correct eccentricity. Thus the Travels allows the dizzy reader to appeal beyond his disorientation to a stable point of view.
However, Swift is Hobbesian enough to know very well that social acceptance of a shared point of view depends in part on the vagaries of temporal authority: the shared, Christian point of view is not universally accepted in Swift's form, and even the established church he represents could be displaced by the arbitrary whim of government (Writings, II, 74-5). That, presumably, is why he gives the wise King of Brobdingnag his own views on the need to stifle eccentric opinions (p 131; cf Writings, IX, 261). His very formulation, however, stresses the existence of other, potentially attractive, points of view into which one can readily slide. There is no intrinsically authoritative or logically necessary point of view to which others can be referred: elsewhere we may see face to face, but here we see through a glass anamorphically. Of course, Swift did have fixed beliefs and so did want to fix things—the English language through an academy, the movements of beggars by issuing badges—but when he expresses these beliefs seriously from a fixed point of view, he risks sounding like the fixed, blinkered narrators he elsewhere satirizes. The alternative to such fixity is a constant shifting of point of view—irony rather than the plain style of the Royal Society. Retreating to a fixed point of view, the reader abandons the experience of the Travels, the participation in various points of view that is the source of its unsettling irony. The multiple vision of the Travels is a consequence of its central metaphor and satiric target—the observer's point of view, which makes satire possible while demonstrating that there is no escape from differences of point of view and the appearances that trick the eye.
1Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed G.B. Hill, rev L.F. Powell (Oxford: Clarendon 1934-50), II, 319; however, in 'Vexations and Diversions: Three Problems in Gulliver's Travels,'MP, 75 (1978), 351-2, Frank Brady notes the inconsistency of the proportions within books, arguing that Swift called attention to it. On science, see Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Science and Imagination (1956; Hamden, Conn: Archon 1976), and David Renaker, 'Swift's Laputians as a Caricature of the Cartesians,' PMLA, 94 (1979), 936-44; Nicolson, p 198, relates the perspectives of the Travels to the perspective glass. In chapter 2 of Jonathan Swift: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1969), Denis Donoghue explores the shifting perspectives of the Travels, although less literally than I attempt to do here; drawing on The Gutenberg Galaxy, he anticipates the more detailed work on anamorphosis and conceit by Ernest B. Gilman (see n 7, below).
2 With Burton—Anatomy, ed H. Jackson (London: Dent; New York: Dutton 1932), II, 96—compare V. Ronchi on this initial scepticism in The Nature of Light, trans V. Barocas (London: Heinemann 1970), p 95. A.C. Crombie surveys investigations of sight in 'The Mechanist Hypothesis and the Scientific Study of Vision,' in Historical Aspects of Microscopy, ed S. Bradbury and G. L'E. Turner (Cambridge: W. Heffer for the Royal Microscopical Society 1967), pp 3-112; see pp 52-3 for Kepler. On scientific optimism about primary qualities and philosophical scepticism about secondary qualities, see Margaret J. Osier, 'Certainty, Skepticism, and Scientific Optimism: The Roots of Eighteenth-Century Attitudes toward Scientific Knowledge,' in Probability, Time, and Space in Eighteenth-Century Literature, ed Paula R. Backscheider (New York: AMS 1979), pp 3-28.
3The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift, ed Herbert Davis and others, 14 vols (Oxford: Blackwell 1939-68), XI, 248; hereafter cited parenthetically as Writings with volume and page except that the Travels (volume XI) is cited by page only.
4 Francis Bacon, Essays, Advancement of Learning, New Atlantis, and Other Pieces, ed R.F. Jones (New York: Odyssey 1937), p 258; on Bacon in the Travels, see Dennis Todd, 'Laputa, the Whore of Babylon, and the Idols of Science,' SP, 75 (1978), 93-120. S. Bradbury discusses the limitations of period glasses in 'The Quality of the Image Produced by the Compound Microscope: 1700-1840,' in Bradbury and Turner, pp 151-73, esp fig 5.
5The Spectator, ed Donald F. Bond (Oxford: Clarendon 1965), III, 544; on vision and space, see William M. Ivins, Jr, On the Rationalization of Sight (New York: Da Capo Press 1973), pp 7-13.
6 Claudio Guillén, Literature as System (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1971), pp 291-3; on artists' glasses, see Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr, Perspective, Optics, and Delft Artists around 1650 (New York and London: Garland 1977).
7 Ernest B. Gilman, The Curious Perspective (New Haven: Yale University Press 1978); his reservation about the eighteenth century appears on pp 235-7. For comment on anamorphosis and, especially, illustrations, I cite the following: Jurgis Baltrušaitis, Anamorphic Art, trans W.J. Strachan (New York: Abrams 1977), and Fred Leeman, Hidden Images (New York: Abrams 1976).
8 Robert Hooke, Philosophical Experiments and Observations (1726; rpt London: Frank Cass 1967), p 261; S. Bradbury, The Evolution of the Microscope (Oxford: Pergamon 1967), p 105; and Journal to Stella, ed Harold Williams (Oxford: Clarendon 1948), I, 97, with which compare Nicolson, pp 182-93, on the comic tradition of the female virtuoso. On Gulliver's background, see Edward A. Block, 'Lemuel Gulliver: Middle-class Englishman,' MLN, 68 (1953), 474-77.
9 Pat Rogers, 'Gulliver's Glasses,' in The Art of Jonathan Swift, ed Clive T. Probyn (London: Vision 1978), p 183; René Descartes, Discourse on Method; Optics; Geometry; and Meteorology, trans Paul J. Olscamp (Indianapolis, New York and Kansas City: Bobbs-Merrill 1965), p 65.
10 Walter Ong, 'Swift on the Mind: Satire in a Closed Field,' in Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press 1971), pp 207-8; he sees Swift as a spectator or, in my terms, observer.
11Art in Seventeenth Century Holland (London: National Gallery 1976); I am grateful to Dr Robert Seiler for this reference. See also Leeman, pp 82-3 and pp 67-74.
12Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed Harold Williams, III (Oxford: Clarendon 1963), 180.
13 Act II, scene iii; annotated editions gloss the passage and Gilman, pp 129-50, reads the play in terms of perspectives, citing this scene on pp 143-34.
14An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed Alexander Campbell Fraser, 2 vols (1894; New York: Dover 1959); cited by book, chapter, and paragraph as Essay.
15Poetical Works, ed Herbert Davis (London: Oxford University Press 1967), p 480 (lines 141-2).
16 On Swift and Plato's Republic, see John F. Reichert, 'Plato, Swift, and the Houyhnhnms,' PQ, 47 (1968), 179-92; for the debate on Swift's relation to ideal societies, especially More's Utopia, see Eugene R. Hammond, 'Nature-Reason-Justice in Utopia and Gulliver's Travels,' SEL, 22 (1982), 445-68, which fully notes earlier contributions, and Jenny Mezciems, 'Utopia and "the Thing which is not": More, Swift, and Other Lying Idealists,' UTQ, 52(1982), 40-62.
17 See P. Brückmann, 'Gulliver, Cum Grano Salis,' Satire Newsletter, 1 (1963), 5-11.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9403
SOURCE: "The Parables of the Younger Son (II): Swift and the Containment of Desire," in The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 338-56.
[In the following essay, McKeon discusses how Gulliver reveals Swift's pessimism concerning one's ability to transcend his or her political and social status because of predetermining cultural forces and inescapable material realities.]
For a brief time fellow servants of the Tory ministry, [Daniel] Defoe and Swift were never on close, or even cordial, terms. The cultural gulf between the two men, evident enough in their educational and religious differences, can be felt most palpably as a matter of social status. Swift's utter disdain—in 1706 he disingenuously referred to Defoe as "the fellow that was pilloryed, I have forgot his name"—elicited an exasperated defensiveness that supports the contention that Defoe "lashed out at Swift less as an individual than as the representative of a social class which treated him and his dearest social aspirations with contempt." Yet Swift hardly saw himself as patrician. To Bolingbroke he said that "my Birth although from a Family not undistinguished in its time is many degrees inferior to Yours … I a Younger Son of younger Sons, You born to a great Fortune." Swift had no brothers; the stance of the younger son served as a delicate rebuke of the nobleman for assuming that their material hardships were remotely comparable.1
In his panegyric to Sir William Temple many years earlier, Swift had adopted this same stance, complaining that nature unjustly denied to the indifferent poet what she lavished on his esteemed patron:
Here the conceit is that Swift by nature is without deserts and yet deserves more than he gets. The posture of the younger son defined for him a condition of extraordinary instability. Swift believed that the delusions of freethinking were most likely to thrive "amongst the worst Part of the Soldiery, made up of Pages, younger Brothers of obscure Families, and others of desperate Fortunes." But he also wistfully imagined that the "New-men " whom the crown was periodically obliged to raise to the pinnacles of state service were "sometimes younger Brothers." It is the distressing spectacle of unrecognized merit that most feeds the conservative psychology of the deprived younger son, and Swift was often inclined to see his own career as a series of missed opportunities for advancement—missed not for a lack of talents in the aspirant but for a lack of gratitude and justice in his masters. Inadequately rewarded for his services to the great, Swift learned a cynicism toward them and their favorites that was consonant with his broader reading of recent English history. On occasion he represented this experience of political and social deprivation in terms of aimless mobility and exile. In the ode to Temple he is "to the Muse's Gallies ty'd," perpetually and vainly struggling to reach shore. To his friends he later described himself, torn between countries and employments, as "a vexed unsettled Vagabond." "I may call my self a stranger in a strange land."2
The life of Swift's greatest character shares some of these general features. Lemuel Gulliver begins his travel narrative with the following words:
My Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons. He sent me to Emanuel-College in Cambridge, at Fourteen Years old, where I resided three Years, and applied my self close to my Studies: But the Charge of maintaining me (although I had a very scanty Allowance) being too great for a narrow Fortune; I was bound Apprentice to Mr. James Bates, an eminent Surgeon in London, with whom I continued four Years.3
Gulliver is one of those younger sons whose "fortunes and employments," in the words of William Sprigge, "are not correspondent to the grandure of their birth and education."4 Having the foresight to acquire skills "useful in long Voyages," which "I always believed it would be some time or other my Fortune to do," Gulliver studies navigation and physic, and he does make several voyages before resolving "to settle in London, to which Mr. Bates, my Master, encouraged me" (I, i, 3). So he marries and sets up in practice; but his master soon dies and his business begins to fail. Gulliver goes to sea again, grows "weary" of it, resumes his practice unsuccessfully, and "after three Years Expectation that things would mend," enters employment on the ship that will take him to Lilliput (I, i, 4).
Thus Gulliver's first travels are undertaken in default of a more settled and upward mobility at home. After the voyage to Lilliput, however, the idea of physical travel takes on more of the financial and moral ambiguity it has in other narratives I have discussed, and the change in tone is effected by familiar narrative strategies. The second voyage begins with "my insatiable Desire of seeing foreign Countries," but also "in Hopes to improve my Fortunes." This expectation is not unreasonable, for Gulliver has already "made a considerable Profit by shewing my Cattle to many Persons of Quality" (I, viii, 63-64). But events soon conspire to cast ethical doubts on such "improvements." The tables are turned in Brobdingnag, when the avaricious farmer, "finding how profitable I was like to be, resolved to carry me to the most considerable Cities of the Kingdom" and "to shew me in all the Towns by the Way … to any Village or Person of Quality's House where he might expect Custom" (II, ii, 83). The echo is unmistakable: "The more my Master got by me, the more unsatiable he grew" (II, iii, 85). It is no doubt this dangerous connection between physical mobility and the indulgence of unlimited appetite that evokes, as in Robinson Crusoe, the retrospective voice of the repentant Narrator. Cornered in the Brobdingnagian cornfield and waiting for the enormous reapers to descend upon him, Gulliver, "wholly overcome by Grief and Despair," "bemoaned my desolate Widow, and Fatherless Children: I lamented my own Folly and Wilfulness in attempting a second Voyage against the Advice of all my Friends and Relations" (II, i, 70). But like Robinson, Gulliver is also able to disown responsibility and to project his desire for a fortune onto Fortune. Part II begins with his "having been condemned by Nature and Fortune to an active and restless Life," and it ends as his "Wife protested I should never go to Sea any more; although my evil Destiny so ordered, that she had not Power to hinder me; as the Reader may know hereafter" (II, i, 67, 133).
The success of the younger son in Defoe's narrative depends on his ability to internalize providence and to naturalize his appetites; less sympathetically, we might say that he learns how to project his desire and then to forget that he has done it. Gulliver never attains that comfort. He undertakes his third voyage because he receives an advantageous proposal, "the Thirst I had of seeing the World, notwithstanding my past Misfortunes, continuing as violent as ever" (III, i, 137-38). His decision to make the fourth interrupts a brief period at home "in a very happy Condition, if I could have learned the Lesson of knowing when I was well" (IV, i, 205). Like Robinson, Gulliver undergoes a decisive island conversion. Inseparable from his conversion experience, however, is the necessity of remaining in the physical presence of the godlike Houyhnhnms and in exile from human society. "But it was decreed by Fortune, my perpetual Enemy, that so great a Felicity should not fall to my Share" (IV, vii, 242). In fact it is a decree of the Grand Council of the Houyhnhnms, "from whence I date all the succeeding Misfortunes of my Life" (IV, ix, 257). Character and Narrator merge at the end, but it is scarcely an act of reconciliation or "atonement." For Gulliver ends radically at odds with himself, violently repudiating his own human nature yet spurned by that other nature with which he has learned to identify so closely. The expectations of the younger son so absolutely and permanently exceed all possibility of reward that status inconsistency becomes a biological condition of existence.
I will return to the land of the Houyhnhnms. For the moment it is enough to see that Swift's narrative both imitates the general movement of the spiritual autobiography and subverts it, by giving us a protagonist whose conviction of depravity issues not in repentance and faith but in the paradoxically prideful mortifications of misanthropy. By the same token, Gulliver's career (and those of several surrogates) both recapitulates that of the progressive, upwardly mobile younger son and parodically negates it in two distinct, and characteristically conservative, trajectories: that of industrious virtue insufficiently rewarded, and that of upstart ambition rewarded beyond all deserts. F. P. Lock is right to compare Gulliver's Travels not only to More's Utopia but also to Machiavelli's The Prince, for Swift's plot is profoundly concerned with questions of state service, and throughout his travels Gulliver repeatedly assumes the role of the "new man," symbolically and unequivocally sundered from any past "inheritance" by his status as a wandering alien who wades ashore willing and eager to serve the reigning prince and receive his due recompense.5
The notoriously discontinuous quality of Gulliver's character throughout much of his travels has frequently been cited to confirm the status of Gulliver's Travels as a "satire" rather than a "novel." But the retrospective standards by which we judge what is "novelistic" are of problematic relevance to the generically uncertain narratives that are native to the period of the novel's gradual stabilization. It may therefore be more instructive to see the discontinuity of Gulliver's character as a strategy that permits him to reflect satirically upon the serviceable hero of progressive ideology in two very different ways. On the one hand, he is the obsequious sycophant who seems always in the act of "prostrating" himself "at his Majesty's Feet," devoting his "Life to her Majesty's Service," embracing the role of "useful Servant," "most humble Creature and Vassal," and "Favourite," and humbly forbearing to rehearse for us just how honorably he has been treated (I, iii, 28; II, iii, 85-86, 90, iv, 97, viii, 123). Of course, his pride ensures that we will know this very well; a case in point is his vain and insistent allusion to his robe nobility after being honored with the Lilliputian title Nardac—"the highest Title of Honour among them"—in reward for the theft of the Blefuscudian fleet (I, v, 37, 39, vi, 49-50)….
But in the conservative mentality, the absence of noble blood tends also to persist as a conventional sign, never too closely examined, of the absence of merit. Thus when Gulliver reflects that in Houyhnhmnland, unlike England, "no Scoundrels [are] raised from the Dust upon the Merit of their Vices," he adds: "or Nobility thrown into it on account of their Virtues" (IV, x, 261). We have two instances (albeit less drastic) of such a decline in Lord Munodi and his friend, both of whom are manifestly meritorious, have done great service to the Laputan monarch, and are held in utter contempt for their incapacity for abstraction—and whose virtues, we sense, are due at least in part to their ancient and eminent nobility (III, iv, 157, 159). And when Gulliver depicts the type of upstart found in his native England—"where a little contemptible Varlet, without the least Title to Birth, Person, Wit, or common Sense, shall presume to look with Importance, and put himself upon a Foot with the greatest Persons of the Kingdom"—his list of what is lacking here characteristically gives at least a symbolizing precedence to lineage (II, v, 108). This ghostly insinuation of belief in the justice of a traditional, aristocratic stratification is entirely consistent, I have argued, with conservative ideology. It is a socially useful fiction, a cautiously instrumental faith that germinates in the soil left by the flowers of progressive belief once the conservative critique has, to its own satisfaction, quite deracinated them. This fiction is inseparable from the Utopian element in conservative ideology. In Gulliver's Travels we fleetingly sense its presence in the "English Yeomen of the old Stamp" summoned up at Glubdubdrib (III, viii, 185). We hear it articulated more fully in the account of the militia of Brobdingnag, "which is made up of Tradesmen in the several Cities, and Farmers in the Country, whose Commanders are only the Nobility and Gentry, without Pay or Reward … Every Farmer is under the Command of his own Landlord, and every Citizen under that of the principal Men in his own City" (II, vii, 122).7 In Lord Munodi we see an aristocratic landowner, joined by "some few other Persons of Quality and Gentry," who "was content to go on in the old Forms; to live in the Houses his Ancestors had built, and act as they did in every Part of Life without Innovation" (III, iv, 161). Munodi's estate combines, more certainly than those other instances, the conservative Utopian elements of a status consistency somehow underwritten by tradition and the stable reality of landed property. But the crucial Utopian enclave in Gulliver's Travels is, of course, Houyhnhnmland.
On first encountering the oddly equable horses, our serviceable hero naturally expects that it is he, the human, who will be "served" by them (IV, i, 211, ii, 213). He is soon disabused of this error, not by any conventional signs of dominion, as in his earlier voyages, but through the gradual and insensible growth of a natural deference toward the Houyhnhnms. He observes first that the household he is engaged with distinguishes itself into "Master" and "Servants," and after speaking to us for a while of "the Master Horse," he offhandedly refers to "my Master (for so I shall henceforth call him)" (IV, ii, 213, 216, iii, 218). Soon it seems natural to call "my Master" "his Honour," and Gulliver sits in long dialogue with his master about the state of European affairs, much as he had once done with the King of Brobdingnag (IV, v, 229). But although he does indeed come to see himself as in "Service" to his master, the nature of the relationship is very different from those he has experienced in the past: "I did not feel the Treachery or Inconstancy of a Friend, nor the Injuries of a secret or open Enemy. I had no Occasion of bribing, flattering or pimping, to procure the Favour of any great Man, or of his Minion" (IV, x, 264, 265, 260).
This negative model of service is still available in Houyhnhnmland, among the Yahoos, for "in most Herds there was a Sort of ruling Yahoo" whose fawning and servile "Favourite is hated by the whole Herd" and befouled by it when he comes to be replaced in the affections of the ruler (IV, vii, 246-47). But when Gulliver receives favor now, it is "the Favour of being admitted to several Houyhnhnms, who came to visit or dine with my Master," and he is happiest in "the Station of an humble Auditor in such Conversations" (IV, x, 261). If we hear an echo of the old obsequiousness in such statements, we must keep in mind (as Gulliver himself knows) that nothing is to be gained by such arts of the courtier. In Houyhnhnmland, service and its rewards appear indistinguishable; they are something like a religious discipline, the contemplation of virtue. Before his banishment Gulliver had resolved "to pass the rest of my Life among these admirable Houyhnhnms in the Contemplation and Practice of every Virtue" (IV, vii, 242). And after it his only ambition is "to discover some small Island uninhabited," where he might "reflect with Delight on the Virtues of those inimitable Houyhnhnms," "which I would have thought a greater Happiness than to be first Minister in the politest Court of Europe; so horrible was the Idea I conceived of returning to live in the Society and under the Government of Yahoos" (IV, xi, 267).
The very terms of the old dynamic of service and reward are altered by the Utopian nature of Houyhnhnm culture because the enabling premise of that dynamic, status inconsistency, has vanished. It is not only their morality that is pervaded, in the apt words of C. J. Rawson, by "an absolute standard of congruity or fittingness," but also their very existence as natural and social beings. When Gulliver assures the Brobdingnag king of the purity of noble lineages in England, he is acting in bad faith. When the Houyhnhnm master assumes Gulliver's nobility, he is simply and truthfully speaking from his own experience, for "among the Houyhnhnms, the White, Sorrel, and the Iron-grey, were not so exactly shaped as the Bay, the Dapple-grey, and the Black; nor born with equal Talents of Mind, or a Capacity to improve them; and therefore continued always in the Condition of Servants, without ever aspiring to match out of their own Race, which in that Country would be reckoned monstrous and unnatural" (IV, vi, 240). The appetite for upward mobility—through state service, intermarriage, or whatever means—never arises here, because the very conditions of status inconsistency by which it is generated, the very possibility of expectations that are "relative" to anything but one's own race, are absent. We are reminded of the aristocratic ideal—enforced by the futile stratagem of sumptuary legislation—of a correspondence between internals and externals so absolute that even mind and body are in complete accord. But here the romance convention whereby the noble are instantly recognizable through the purity of their complexions or the fineness of their hair has become a social reality.8
True, the smooth running of the social order requires more than the unrationalized operation of a purely natural "instinct." But the Houyhnhnms's recourse to "culture" is a good deal more candidly naturalized to the social order than a stealthy, "convenient fiction" like Socrates' myth of autochthonous origins, for it takes the form of a system of eugenics, which is rationally pursued in order "to preserve the Race from degenerating." It is to this end, and neither for love nor for the consolidation of the estate, that marriages are made, and the young couple is pleased to participate in the system because "it is what they see done every Day; and they look upon it as one of the necessary Actions in a reasonable Being" (IV, viii, 252-53). In such policies we see how socially useful conventions are subtly incorporated within Houyhnhnm social practice and obtain the tacit authority of behavior that is at once socialized and natural. The Houyhnhnm institution of marriage is based neither on the progressive fiction of the freedom of choice of the individual, nor on the aristocratic fiction of sacrifice to the greater end of familial lineage, but on their dialectical mediation.9 The Houyhnhnm economy is similarly suffused with a principle of congruity or consistency. In the insatiable avarice of the Brobdingnag farmer, we have already seen an ironic reflection of Gulliver's own insatiable desire for profit and mobility after Lilliput. The rest of the narrative does much to argue that these appetites, and the economic base that permits their unlimited growth, are endemic to English culture. The status inconsistency that nourishes the endless round of service and reward is itself fueled, as the Brobdingnag king discerns, by monetary corruption (II, vi, 113-16; III, viii, 185-86). And in Houyhnhnmland, Gulliver describes to his master how the English economy, unlimited by any principle of necessity or subsistence, thrives on the satisfaction of luxurious appetites, all the while creating fanciful new desires that will in turn need slaking. The key to this, Gulliver explains, is the exchange value of money, with which a European Yahoo "was able to purchase whatever he had a mind to … Therefore since Money alone, was able to perform all these Feats, our Yahoos thought, they could never have enough of it to spend or save," and the result is both conspicuous consumption and avaricious accumulation (IV, vi, 235-37). The only example of this sort of behavior in Houyhnhnmland is found, not surprisingly, among the Yahoos. Although Gulliver's master had long known of their fondness for a certain kind of shining stone, "he could never discover the Reason of this unnatural Appetite, or how these Stones could be of any Use to a Yahoo; but now he believed it might proceed from the same Principle of Avarice, which I had ascribed to Mankind." The same could be said of the principle of luxury and uncontrolled consumption, for there is nothing more odious about the Yahoos "than their undistinguishing Appetite to devour every thing that [comes] in their Way" (IV, vii, 244-45).
Among the Houyhnhnms things are, needless to say, very different. Like the Brobdingnag people, they are committed in general to a limiting principle of utility (II, vii, 120; IV, iv, 226, viii, 252). Just as the Houyhnhnm master could not see the use of the Yahoos' stones, so "I was at much Pains to describe to him the Use of Money" (IV, vi, 235). For the use of money lies paradoxically in its alienation, in its exchange, and the Houyhnhnms have no use for exchange, because they have no desire for products that are obtainable only through the circulation of commodities (or indeed for the process of circulation itself, the taste for which is one of the most highly developed in capitalist culture). Theirs is not a "free" but a planned economy, whose principle of privileged communism Swift nicely articulates as the "Supposition that all Animals had a Title to their Share in the Productions of the Earth; and especially those who presided over the rest" (IV, vi, 235). In Houyhnhnmland, the manifest reality of social inequality is seen as quite consistent with economic egalitarianism. The closest the Houyhnhnms come to a system of exchange is a mechanism for the redistribution of goods: every four years, "where-ever there is any Want (which is but seldom) it is immediately supplied by unanimous Consent and Contribution" (IV, viii, 254). And despite his deficient preparation for it, Gulliver learns to practice here his "little Oeconomy"—the account both invites and resists comparison with Robinson Crusoe's ostentatiously noncapitalist improvements—so that the very simple wants of his life are fully satisfied by an equally simple productive regimen (IV, x, 260).
Thus the conservative utopia of Houyhnhnmland so successfully dispels the imaginary values and unnatural wants of contemporary English civilization that it seems, finally, to establish a "consistency" between nature and culture. And if this is the achievement of Swift's Utopia, the analogy of nature and culture, of biological and social existence, is also, of course, the method by which he has entangled his protagonist in adventure all along. In accord with the tradition of the imaginary voyage, Gulliver's travels are an experience of both sociopolitical and physical transformation, and it is clear that Swift would have us understand and ponder the analogical nature of this relationship. When Gulliver recalls the English variety of the "little contemptible Varlet," for example, it is as "the Moral of my own Behaviour" in Brobdingnag, when he acts the diminutive mock-hero in bombastic defense of his honor against his mortal enemy, the palace monkey (II, v, 107-8). And when he tells us soon after that "I was the Favourite of a great King and Queen, and the Delight of the whole Court; but it was upon such a Foot as ill became the Dignity of human Kind," we are obliged to see that he is describing not just the unique status of a pygmy among giants but the typical indignity of a court favorite (II, viii, 123). As we first know him Gulliver is, of course, much more physically than socially conscious. Like Robinson Crusoe, he is a practical man: a student of "Physick," a pragmatic "Projector," and a "Mechanical Genius," "curious enough to dissect" a Brobdingnag louse, "so curious [as] to weigh and measure" a Brobdingnag hailstone, inclined to wander from his shipmates in order "to entertain [his] Curiosity" (I, i, 3, v, 35; II, i, 69, iv, 97, v, 100, vi, 110; III, iv, 162). Entirely devoted to the evidence of the senses, Gulliver is one of those "plain, diligent, and laborious observers" celebrated by Thomas Sprat, who bring their "eyes uncorrupted" to their work, and he is quite preoccupied with an assortment of instruments—spectacles, pocket perspective, pocket compass—with which he hopes artificially to improve upon "the Weakness of [his] Eyes" (I, ii, 21).10
In Gulliver we are confronted with the man of science, a naive empiricist whose modernized version of the old sin of libido sciendi consists in the reduction of knowledge to sense impressions. In the problems that plague him in Parts I and II, we first encounter the theme that comes to the center of Swift's narrative in Part III, the critique of scientific empiricism as "the new romance." Already in Brobdingnag we learn that the category of the "Lusus Naturae " of "the Modern Philosophy of Europe" is, whatever Gulliver believes, no better than "the old Evasion of occult Causes, whereby the Followers of Aristotle endeavour in vain to disguise their Ignorance" (II, iii, 88). By the time he meets Munodi, Gulliver is content to characterize a projector in terms not of vigorous skepticism but of "much Curiosity and easy Belief," and the Academy of Projectors in Lagado in a monument to the ironic reversal by which the objectivity of scientific projects for reforming the world is shown to entail a stealthy projection of subjective fancy upon it (III, iv, 162; cf. III, v-vi).11
But the demystification of objectivity is first enacted in the collisions between Gulliver's quantifying method and the respective standards of Lilliput and Brobdingnag. At the beginning of Part I, Gulliver's careful spatial estimates in leagues, degrees, inches, feet, and miles are soon confounded by phenomena that seem to defy an absolute and unitary measure ("The great Gate … about four Foot high"; leg chains "almost as large" as "those that hang to a Lady's Watch in Europe"; a prince big enough—"taller by almost the Breadth of my Nail, than any of his Court"—"to strike an Awe into the Beholders") (I, i, 4-5, 11-12, ii, 14). At the outset in Part II, we pass quickly from an account of the ship's movement "by my Computation" to an account of "Trees so lofty that I could make no Computation of their Altitude" (II, i, 68, 69). And now the fact of relativity, the reduction of objective quantification to a completely subjective perception, is impressed upon the bewildered Gulliver with all the force of an ontological theory of relative expectations: "Undoubtedly Philosophers are in the Right when they tell us, that nothing is great or little otherwise than by Comparison: It might have pleased Fortune to let the Lilliputians find some Nation, where the People were as diminutive with respect to them, as they were to me. And who knows but that even this prodigious Race of Mortals might be equally overmatched in some distant Part of the World, whereof we have yet no Discovery?" (II, i, 71). But even under these extreme conditions of ontological vertigo, Swift is careful to ensure that physical relativity continues to operate as an analogy for social relativity. Thus Gulliver, although disgusted by the smell of the Brobdingnag "Maids of Honour," through an effort of will concedes that they may be "no more disagreeable to their Lovers … than People of the same Quality are with us in England" (II, v, 102). But the appalling sight of a nurse's "monstrous Breast, which I cannot tell what to compare with," makes him "reflect upon the fair Skins of our English Ladies," and he himself is flatteringly perceived by the Brobdingnags as having "a Complexion fairer than a Nobleman's Daughter of Three Years old" (II, i, 75-76, ii, 80).
The relativizing of physical standards of objectivity is an undeniable accomplishment of the first three voyages, but if we take this to be irreversibly damaging to the equilibrium of the modern empiricist-traveler, we do him an injustice. In fact, Gulliver's fundamental appetite of curiosity—the "insatiable Desire of seeing foreign Countries," that "insatiable Desire I had to see the World in every Period of Antiquity"—is only whetted by the experience of indefinite relativity, for this is after all precisely what he is seeking: the experience of difference. And like all good travelers, he is well equipped for the experience. Despite his disclaimers, he is very adept at comparison, which permits him, at any single moment, to equilibrate difference, and the result is that he is extraordinarily adaptive to change. If "going native" is a cross-cultural version of social assimilation,12 Gulliver's assimilative powers are so strong that even Brobdingnag is as much an experience of upward as of downward mobility for him. True, when the English ship comes upon his traveling box in the open sea, he imagines it will be an easy matter for one of the crew to slip his finger through its ring and lift it on board (II, viii, 127). But early on, Gulliver also learns to internalize the standards of what he sees around him and to recall with contempt the affectations of "English Lords and Ladies": "My Ideas were wholly taken up with what I saw on every Side of me; and I winked at my own Littleness, as People do at their own Faults" (II, iii, 91, viii, 132; cf. iv, 98, viii, 131, 133).
Gulliver's facility for assimilative comparison depends upon his ability to abstract himself from the fact of difference onto a plane of similarity, to manipulate a kind of epistemological exchange value that accommodates qualitatively dissimilar objects to a more general and equalizing standard. For this reason it is not surprising that like the mobile and serviceable seaman Edward Coxere, Gulliver is a master of languages (like language, "money is," in the words of Anthony Ascham, "an invention onely for the more expedite permutation of things"). Gulliver's facility with languages is so great, and his vanity as translator, purveyor of specialized terminologies, and amateur linguist is so well developed, that he appears to aspire in his own being to fulfill the Utopian fantasy of seventeenth-century language projectors, the dream of a universal language. And in the Academy of Projectors at Lagado he is greatly taken with the several schemes by which language would be mechanized, materialized, or allegorized by method so as to render it a universal and transparent medium of exchange (III, v, 166-70, vi, 174-76).13
But in Houyhnhnmland this complacent dream is shattered. Here Gulliver is put "to the Pains of many Circumlocutions to give my Master a right Idea of what I spoke" (IV, iv, 226). At first it appears that this is the result of the primitive state of the Houyhnhnms' understanding, reflected in their regrettable paucity of words and expressions. But it soon becomes clear that what they lack is rather the superfluity of vicious desires that make language obscure and complicated and that are symbolized in the confusion of the Tower of Babel (IV, iii, 219, iv, 228). Ironically it is Houyhnhnm speech that approximates most closely, in Gulliver's Travels, a universal language. It is employed simply "to make us understand one another, and to receive Information of Facts." The Houyhnhnms have no "Occasion to talk of Lying, and false Representation,'" not only because their wills are not infected, but because in their speech there is a perfect correspondence and consistency of word and thing (IV, iv, 224). In Houyhnhnmland, the absence of a highly elaborated language is directly analogous to the absence of a highly elaborated economy. And Gulliver, frustrated in his attempts to translate between English and Houyhnhnm speech—to equalize them on the linguistic market of exchange—humbly acknowledges, with John Bunyan, the persistence and intractability of the old problem of mediation, and strives "to express [him] self by Similitudes" (IV, iv, 227).14
As in Robinson Crusoe, questions of virtue in Gulliver's Travels are never widely separated from questions of truth, and at times Swift is willing to juxtapose them quite directly. When the King of Brobdingnag concludes his attack on the inconsistency of status and virtue in England, for example, Gulliver, despite his "extreme Love of Truth," freely admits to having given the king a more favorable account of the matter "than the strictness of Truth would allow" (II, vi-vii, 116-17). And in Glubdubdrib, immediately after telling us of the remarkable "Interruption of Lineages" among royalty and nobility, he narrates how "disgusted" he was "with modern History" and with "how the World had been misled by prostitute Writers" (III, viii, 183). Gulliver's Travels is adorned with all the claims to historicity and all the authenticating devices of "modern history" in general, and of travel narrative in particular. The claim itself is made early, late, and with considerable insistence (pp. xxxv-viii; II, i, 78; IV, xii, 275-76). The narrative is interspersed with documents—letters, maps—that attest to its own documentary objecthood (pp. xxxiii-viii, 2, 66, 136, 204), and it makes reference several times to the "Journal Book" on which, in accordance with the Royal Society's instructions, its own historicity is based (I, ii, 21; IV, iii, 218, xii, 276). The prefatory letter added in 1735 alludes to the spurious continuations and keys that have been published since the first printing, thereby buttressing its founding authenticity, but at the same time it complains of some spelling and other errors in that printing, the most serious of which are editorial deletions and insertions that raise the dilemma of quantitative completeness (pp. xxxiii-xxxvi). We encounter familiar hints that the narrative seems strange and therefore true; that "there is an Air of Truth apparent through the whole"; and that the author has chosen "to relate plain matter of Fact in the simplest Manner and Style" (II, iv, 98-99; p. xxxvii; IV, xii, 275). Finally, we are reminded throughout that what we are reading is indeed a book of travels and may be judged accordingly.15
The results of such a judgment are not entirely straightforward. Gulliver's Travels is, of course, a satire of the travel narrative, and of the naive empiricism with which it is so closely associated. But just as Swift's critique of progressive ideology shares with that ideology a contempt for the fictions of aristocratic honor, so the subversion of the claim to historicity proceeds from a common, if more relentlessly indulged, skeptical impulse. The conventions of imaginary and "real" voyages were the same, and Swift's wide reading in the form bespeaks (as is so characteristic of his interests) an equivocal fascination composed of attraction as well as repulsion.16 When Gulliver couples his claim to historicity with the aim of moral "Reformation," he is echoing, to be sure, the sort of statement that preceded not only some of Defoe's works but numerous exercises in quasi-spiritual autobiography and travel as well (p. xxxv). But the coexistence of that aim with his disgusted repudiation of "so absurd a Project as that of reforming the Yahoo Race in this Kingdom" is entirely typical also of Swift's own lifelong ambivalence about the utility of satiric schemes of reformation (p. xxxvi). By the same token, the Swiftian attack upon the incredibility of "true history" would not be as profound as it is if Swift were not deeply committed to some species of historical truth.17
What are the implications of Swift's epistemological double reversal for how he would tell the truth in narrative? Obviously he does not underwrite Gulliver's claim to have related "plain matter of fact." The Houyhnhnms can use language to convey and "receive information of facts," but that is because they are Houyhnhnms. Gulliver's commitment to the factual veracity of his factually vulnerable narrative is thus one clear sign of his error. But he is also committed, however fallibly, to the wisdom of the Houyhnhnms, and in his transmission of their wisdom to us he practices another sort of truth-telling in narrative, which he articulates when he says that "a Traveller's chief Aim should be to make Men wiser and better, and to improve their Minds by the bad, as well as good Example of what they deliver concerning foreign Places" (IV, xii, 275). This formulation of how history teaches truth and virtue by example is in fact rather more traditional than Gulliver's—and Swift's—actual practice would warrant, for the texture of circumstantial and authenticating detail is too dense to be dissolved by our somewhat anxious insistence that it is "all ironic."18
The epistemology of Gulliver's Travels can be usefully compared with that of the most acute and self-conscious of the spiritual travelers at the end of the previous century, whose plain style and historicity were instruments by which to arrive at a truth that lay through, but not in, the factual.19 But Swift's parable is noticeably non-Christian, and since we are not asked to acknowledge the Author who lurks behind the author, we are not overly occupied with attributing to an ultimately higher source Swift's creation of the artifice Gulliver has disavowed. As a result, by subverting empirical epistemology, Swift contributes, as fully as Defoe does by sponsoring it, to the growth of modern ideas of realism and the internalized spirituality of the aesthetic. Swift's parabolic pedagogy can tacitly justify its return to an anachronistic attitude toward how to tell the truth in narrative in part because it has, as it were, earned the right to it through a self-conscious evisceration of the more modern alternative, and in part because that modern alternative is learning how to reconcile itself to notions of aesthetic universality through the resuscitation of Aristotelian doctrine. In this respect, as well as in its inevitable dedication to the weapon of perceptual subjectivity, which it employs to attack empirical notions of objectivity, Swift's narrative method is at the forefront of the "modern alternative." The attack would be ineffective if it were based only on the old unsearchability of the divine spirit and its intentions. Yet in substituting for the traditional a modernized critique of materialist sufficiency, Swift participates, as surely as Defoe, in the modern replacement of Spirit by Mind.20
But there are also other ways of understanding why Gulliver's Travels is non-Christian. In Robinson Crusoe Defoe is willing, quasi-metaphorically, to speak of Robinson's "original sin" because in the optimistic spirit of progressive ideology he is willing to conceive that status inconsistency, for which original sin stands as its most irrevocable instance, can be indemnified and overcome. Swift does not speak of original sin because his social vision is too thoroughly infiltrated by a conviction of it, and in the Houyhnhnms he wants to posit a race of mortals—humanoid but necessarily nonhuman—that has no experience of status inconsistency. In Brobdingnag, Gulliver has already shown remarkable powers of resistance to negative socialization. Bestialized at every turn—compared to a weasel, a toad, a spider, a splacknuck, a canary, a frog, a puppy, a diminutive insect, a little odious vermin—it is testimony to his resilience that he is yet able to identify as fully as he does with his enormous human hosts. In Houyhnhnmland the Yahoos confront Gulliver with the similar challenge of an effective theriomorphy, and for a while he fends it off.
When he first encounters the Yahoos they are "Beast[s]," "ugly Monster[s]," deformed "Animals" who bear no relation to the "many Tracks of human Feet" he has earlier observed, a "cursed Brood" that presumably served "the Inhabitants" as "Cattle" (IV, i, 207-8). As the alarming resemblance becomes harder to avoid, he tries to conceal "the Secret of [his] Dress, in order to distinguish [himself] as much as possible" (IV, iii, 220). But at length Gulliver is obliged to acknowledge "that entire Congruity betwixt [himself] and their Yahoos," and when a young female, observing him bathe, becomes "inflamed by Desire … [he] could no longer deny, that [he] was a real Yahoo" (IV, vii, 242, viii, 250-51). Still he entertains some hope that the Houyhnhnms "would condescend to distinguish [him] from the rest of [his] Species," but he is overcome with despair when the General Council exhorts his master "either to employ [him] like the rest of [his] Species, or command [him] to swim back to the Place from whence [he] came" (IV, x, 262, 263).
So Gulliver is obliged against his will to "go native." What is the precise meaning of this assimilation? It is of course in the interest of Gulliver's self-esteem for him to understand himself as the pure form of the species, from whom the "corrupted" Yahoos have "degenerated" (IV, iii, 222, viii, 249). This view receives some support from his master's interpretation of the traditional story of the origins of the Yahoos, "whereof," Gulliver significantly adds, "he had indeed borrowed the Hint from me" (IV, ix, 256).21 But Gulliver's account of European culture, the impartial observation of the Yahoos, and the wisdom of the Houyhnhnms all point toward the contrary conclusion: that the tincture of reason possessed by the Europeans has aggravated, corrupted, improved, and multiplied the vices and wants that they naturally share with the Yahoos, and made them unquestionably the degenerate and bestial form of the species (IV, v, 232, vii, 243-48, x, 262, xii, 280). The "corruptions" of money, it would appear—its ability to create new and unheardof desires and vanities—are a subcategory of the "corruptions" of reason. Both are peculiar to that segment of the human race whose vicious appetites have become so unlimited by the constraints of nature and custom as to demand the final and appalling sanction of being, themselves, the standard of what is natural.22
One basic argument of the "soft school of interpretation" concerning Part IV of Gulliver's Travels is that Swift tacitly and tellingly discredits the Houyhnhnms by making them passionless and cold—an argument which ignores how consistently the containment of the passions operates in Swift's writings as a positive norm. In fact Swift tells us that the language of the Houyhnhnms is well suited to the expression of the passions (IV, i, 210). True, their passions and wants are fewer than ours; but among the appetites they lack is "the Desire of Power and Riches," whereas the detestable type of the first minister of state in England—possessed of rather fewer passions, apparently, than even the Houyhnhnms—"makes use of no other Passions but a violent Desire of Wealth, Power, and Titles" (IV, iv, 226, 228, vi, 239; see also IV, vi, 236, viii, 253, for passions the Houyhnhnms do not know). It is precisely because the passions of the Houyhnhnms are few, and because they place natural and discretionary limits on them—planned marriages, the practice of abstinence, the selective censorship and eventual banishment of Gulliver—that they have avoided the degenerations and corruptions of the human race (IV, v, 231-32, viii, 252-53, x, 263).23
For the wisdom of the Houyhnhnms entails not an invulnerability to corruption but the foresight and will to prevent it. And their wisdom in banishing Gulliver is evident in the fact that his assimilationist vanity is in no way limited by his acceptance of his status as a Yahoo, which instead only whets his appetite to become a Houyhnhnm. In what is surely an extreme case of upwardly mobile ambition, Gulliver aspires to the status of a higher species. And when we call up the image of him trotting and whinnying like a Houyhnhnm, we are struck by the justice with which the materialist sufficiency of this man of science is now expressed in the hopelessly physical mode through which he would imitate moral excellence (IV, x, 262-63).24 Gulliver's impersonation of a horse is his equivalent of Robinson's figures of absolute dominion and divine providence. Both men are engaged in postconversion projects of "improvement"; but whereas Robinson is permitted by his author to project English society upon his island with impunity and to introject a divinity that sanctions his desires, Gulliver's ethnocentric attempts to find an ideal England abroad are consistently frustrated, and the Houyhnhnms absolutely resist introjection.
Although we might be tempted to draw the easy lesson that only this particular conversion has failed, Swift is really reflecting on all suspect conversions that consist in the psychological process of introjection, conversions that succeed if their subjects are complacent enough to be certain that they have. And so he gives us a protagonist whose utopia cannot be internalized, who cannot "make" himself, whose social mobility manifestly cannot signify spiritual achievement, because try as he might, he cannot become what he is not—a truth that is demonstrated most of all in his very willingness to try. Robinson Crusoe's honest old Portuguese captain serves to reflect back to him his heightened spiritual status, to provide the external accreditation of the community. Gulliver's honest Portuguese captain, Don Pedro de Mendez, exists to provide this same assurance, and the fact that Gulliver barely tolerates him bespeaks a fine doubleness. For it supports both a painful truth—even the best of men are only human (and Gulliver has renounced easy confirmations)—and a painful delusion—Gulliver's distaste for Don Pedro is inseparable from his continuing conviction of his own differentness.
So the inwardly divided Gulliver returns to England, makes a "small Purchase of Land," and retires to cultivate "my little Garden." And by that movement he completes, in the double trajectory with which he began, a characteristically circular conservative plot pattern: the embittered return of the disdained country gentleman to his landed enclave (and the type embraces also the retirement of Munodi and Swift himself); and the comic rustication of the unsuccessful younger son, bloated with pride and incomprehendingly indignant at his failure to make it in town or at court (pp. xxxiv, xxxvi; IV, xii, 279). The power of Gulliver's Travels as a narrative explanation of status inconsistency cannot be detached from the force of its will to explain, parabolically, our more general condition of mutability and discord. The ironic theme of historical degeneration and cyclical decay is everywhere: in the testimony of Aristotle at Glubdubdrib when he enunciates the conservative maxim "that new Systems of Nature [are] but new Fashions," and new truths only recapitulate the errors of those they replace; in the case of the Struldbruggs, who seem to Gulliver to promise an "antient Virtue" that may "prevent that continual Degeneracy of human Nature," but who in fact are a terrible emblem of physical and mental decay (III, viii, 182, x, 192, 194).25
But the generality of the problems Swift investigates in Gulliver's Travels can be overstated. At crucial mo ments in the critique of ambitious courtiers and ungrateful princes, we are told that our concern is with the modern period and the modern world. The familiar-sounding crises that we hear of in Lilliputian politics began with the present emperor's great-grandfather and continue to very recent times (I, iv, 32-34, vi, 44). The present era of Brobdingang stability dates from the reign of this king's grandfather, who ended a civil war (II, vii, 122). The virtues of the old English yeomen have been prostituted by their corrupted grandchildren, who are even now at large (III, viii, 185-86). The volatile period to which Swift alludes most insistently, in other words, is the previous century. In the last analysis it seems important to recognize that Gulliver's Travels intertwines the microplot of Lemuel Gulliver with these allusive invocations of the macroplot of seventeenth-century English history in order to specify, and explain, a species of error and corruption that, to a very important degree, Swift saw as a modern phenomenon.
1 Michael Shinagel, Defoe and Middle-Class Gentility (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), 81, 86; Jonathan Swift to Viscount Bolingbroke, Oct. 31, 1729, in The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), III, 354.
2 Jonathan Swift: "Ode to the Honble Sir William Temple" (1692), II. 178-84, in The Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), I, 32; (Irish) Intelligencer, no. 9 (1728), in The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, vol. 12: Irish Tracts, 1728-1733, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Blackwell, 1964), 47; A Letter to a Young Gentleman, Lately enter d into Holy Orders … (1721), in Prose Works, vol. 9: Irish Tracts, 1720-1723 and Sermons, ed. Louis Landa (Oxford: Blackwell, 1948), 78; "Ode to Temple," 1. 191, in Poems, I, 32; Swift to John Arbuthnot, July 3, 1714, and Swift to Alexander Pope, Aug. 11, 1729, in Correspondence, II, 46, and III, 341. On Swift's sense of physical alienation, and on his profound attachment to Ireland, see Carole Fabricant, Swift's Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), chap. 6. On the conservative reading of recent English history and the psychology of the younger son, see above, chap. 6, sec. 3.
3 Jonathan Swift, Travels into several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver … (1726), vol. II of Prose Works, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1941), I, i, 3 (hereafter cited as Travels); all parenthetical citations in the text are to this edition, and consist of part, chapter, and page number.
4 See above chap. 4, n. 62.
5 F. P. Lock, The Politics of Gulliver's Travels (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 22. Machiavelli was of fundamental importance to both progressive and conservative ideology; for a discussion primarily of the former influence, see above, chap. 5, nn. 16-18.
6 See above, chap. 5, n. 22. On Castiglione see above, chap. 5, n. 14.
7 Swift's immediate model here is less the old Cavalier army (see above, chap. 5, n. 19), than the Machiavellian republican tradition.
8 C. J. Rawson, Gulliver and the Gentle Reader: Studies in Swift and Our Time (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 19. On sumptuary legislation see above, chap. 4, nn. 2, 29.
9 But while status distinctions are thereby reinforced, like many Utopian communities, the Houyhnhnms (and the Lilliputians) are opposed to the extreme socialization of sex difference; see Travels, I, vi, 46; IV, viii, 253. For other Utopian practices in this regard, see above, chap. 6, n. 38. On Socrates see above, chap. 4, nn. 8-9.
10 See also Travels, I, v, 35-36, viii, 62, and, for the utility of the magnifying glass and the looking glass in Brobdingnag, II, i, 76, iii, 88, 91, viii, 131. For Sprat see above, chap. 3, n. 31. Gulliver likes to keep his instruments of sight in his most private and secret pockets, and he tells us of his gratitude when the pirates of Part III and the mutineers of Part IV refrain from a pocket search: Travels, III, i, 139; IV, i, 206. Given this empiricist investment in his eyesight, it is particularly disturbing that the punishment with which Gulliver is threatened in Lilliput is blinding: ibid., I, vii, 54, 56. On the potential "corruptions" of the tele-scope see the comments of Swift's skeptical predecessors in the critique of the new philosophy, Henry Stubbe and Samuel Butler, above, chap. 2, nn. 14-15.
11 David Renaker has argued that only the science of Lagado represents Newtonianism and the experimental method of the Royal Society, and that the abstracted speculators of Laputa represent Cartesian rationalism: "Swift's Laputians as a Caricature of the Cartesians," PMLA, 94, no. 5 (Oct., 1979), 936-44.
12 See above, chap. 6, n. 37.
13 Gulliver's facility with languages and translation: Travels, I, i, 4, ii, 15, 18-20; II, i, 73; IV, ii, 216. Nautical terminology: ibid., p. xxxv, II, i, 68. Gulliver as a linguist: ibid., II, ii, 79; III, ii, 145-46. On the concern of imaginary voyages with the universal language see above, chap. 6, n. 38. For Ascham see above, chap. 5, n. 50. For Coxere see above, chap. 6, nn. 41-42.
14 Compare Hosea 12:10: "I have used … similitudes," which provides the epigraph for The Pilgrim's Progress. In his account of the Brazilian Indians, Michel de Montaigne similarly associates economic with linguistic simplicity: "It is a Nation wherein there is no manner of Traffick … no use of Service, Riches or Poverty, no Contracts, no Successions, no Dividents … no Agriculture, no Mettal, no use of Corn or Wine, and where so much as the very words that signifie, Lying, Treachery, Dissimulation, Avarice, Envy, Detraction and Pardon, were never heard of (Essays of Michael seigneur de Montaigne …, trans. Charles Cotton , "Of Canniballs," I, 368-69).
15 See Travels, II, i, 78, iv, 98-99, viii, 131; III, xi, 198; IV, ii, 216-17, viii, 251, x, 266, xii, 275-77. Documentation: Part I also contains Gulliver's "Word for Word" translations of several official Lilliputian documents; ibid., I, ii, 18-20, iii, 27-28, vii, 52-53. Gulliver makes clear his intellectual affiliation with the Royal Society by telling us that he has donated several Brobdingnag wasp stings to that institution; ibid., II, iii, 94. Printing errors: The printer has erroneously transformed "Brobdingrag" into "Brobdingnag"; compare Edward Cooke, A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World … (1712), II, vi, where "Selkirk" is corrected to Selcrag." On quantitative completeness see also Travels, II, i, 78, vii, 117.
16 Many narrators of travels, both real and imaginary, made the plausible argument that our doubts concerning the existence of things—lands, peoples, extraordinary animals—we do not know may reflect only our skepticism, not their unreality; e.g., see above, chap. 3, nn. 48-50. John Arbuthnot told Swift of readers who behaved as though Gulliver's Travels was authentic; see Arbuthnot to Swift, Nov. 5, 1726, in Correspondence, III, 180. On the complexity of Swift's attitude toward travel narratives see also Percy G. Adams, Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983), 142-44.
17 Lock has made an important objection to the common and uncritical assumption that much of the political allegory that has been attributed to Gulliver's Travels was intended by Swift. But he is wrong to suggest that reference to particular historical cases was foreign to Swift's aim in that work, and to maintain that "to bury the meanings so deeply that the allegory could neither be recognized nor certainly interpreted if discovered was self-defeating" (Politics of Gulliver's Travels, 106). I have earlier argued that the uncertainty of allegorical interpretation provides Swift and his contemporaries with a crucial focus for investigating the problem of mediation, especially as that problem was trivialized and aggravated (for people like Swift) by naive empiricist or enthusiastic beliefs in the possibility of an immediate access to truth. This is no-where more clear than in A Tale of a Tub (1704), where Swift attacks simultaneously the opposed but complementary errors of deep and superficial reading. In the episode of the political allegorizers in Gulliver's Travels (III, vi, 175), Swift creates a similar sort of double-bind for his readers by calling them "the Natives called Langden" "in the Kingdom of Tribnia" Lock thinks these are "crudely intrusive anagrams that make the satire … needlessly specific" (Politics of Gulliver's Travels, 82). But the effect of the names is to implicate us inextricably in the problem of interpretation, for by automatically deciphering them as "England" and "Britain," we replicate the behavior of the projectors whom Swift obliges us to scorn. (Another way of saying this is to suggest that Swift here employs a second-order satire whose principal target is not really "the English" at all, but overly elaborate interpretation—like that required to read the currently popular secret histories and romans à clef [see above, chap. 1, nn. 99-100].) Here Swift has a little joke at our expense. But the critical problem of interpretive indeterminacy, although it may feel self-defeating, is a serious one that ramifies into many areas of his thought.
18 See the intelligent discussion of how we are to take Gulliver's claim to historicity in Rawson, Gulliver and the Gentle Reader, 9-10.
19 E.g., cf. William Okeley, above, chap. 3, n. 56.
20 On these matters see above, chap. 3, sec. 6.
21 In the first edition, Gulliver elaborates this interpretation to suggest that the Yahoos are the "very much defaced" descendants of specifically English people; see Travels, "Textual Notes," 306.
22 See above, chap. 5, sec. 4. The idea that human reason works to corrupt rather than to enhance human nature was a familiar one in political and Utopian literature; e.g., in [Gabriel de Foigny], A New Discovery of Terra Incognita Australis … (1693), 75-76, the wise old man tells Sadeur that his countrymen "have some Sparks of Reason, but they are so weak, that instead of enlightning them, they only serve to conduct 'em more surely in their Error."
23 Like other conservative writers, Swift thus implicitly mocks the progressive claim that the indulgence of the avaricious passions may help countervail more destructive ones; see above, chap. 6, nn. 25, 53. On the soft and hard schools of interpretation see James L. Clifford, "Gulliver's Fourth Voyage: Hard and Soft Schools of Interpretation," in Quick Springs of Sense: Studies in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Larry S. Champion (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974), 33-49.
24 The amusing silliness of a Houyhnhnm threading a needle, on the other hand, is Swift's mild self-mockery of the inadequacy of his own efforts (a very minor version of his hero's failings) to mediate Houyhnhnm to human nature by way of physical resemblance. But note that even here it is Gulliver who creates the incongruity by lending the mare a needle: Travels, IV, ix, 258. With Gulliver's vain ambition compare the desperate and self-censored aspiration of Mary Carleton to be a different sex (above, chap. 6, nn. 32-34). It is easy to sympathize with her ambition, as it is not in the case of Gulliver's, because hers amounts to a just desire to obtain the power she merits rather than a vain emulation of a status that is beyond her internal capacities.
25 On the circular patterns of conservative plots see above, chap. 6, nn. 21-22.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8017
SOURCE: "The Political Significance of Gulliver's Travels," in Swift and His Contexts, edited by John Irwin Fischer, Herman J. Real and James Woolley, AMS Press, 1989, pp. 1-20.
[In the following essay, Downie argues that critics have gone too far in making links between real events and people in British history and the contents of Gulliver's Travels. He suggests that Swift was writing a more general "parallel history" rather than a decipherable allegorical text intended to serve as an exposé.]
Seventy years have passed since Sir Charles Firth first made use of the title I have chosen for my essay. "Political allusions abound in the Travels," Firth asserted in his lecture to the British Academy in 1919. In saying this, he was, in one respect, doing little more than endorsing the view which had been taken of Swift's masterpiece ever since its first publication. But Firth wished to codify such general perceptions. "In Gulliver's Travels many figures which seem to be imaginary are meant to depict real personages," he claimed, "or at all events are drawn from them."1 Considering that nearly two centuries had passed since publication, Firth's assurance was breathtaking. It now seems almost incredible that his assertions could have influenced so profoundly the way succeeding generations have approached Swift's book, for Firth wasn't even an expert in eighteenth-century history. "To the politics of Walpole's day he brought only the superficial expertise of a gifted amateur," J. P. Kenyon has observed, "and the literary critics who followed him could contribute little more.2
But that was not how it seemed to Firth's immediate successors, and his casual observations were soon being treated as if they had been tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. In 1938, Godfrey Davies claimed that Firth's essay "proved that Swift often drew upon contemporary events in England for the parts of the book he first wrote," i.e., Parts I and II.3 Perhaps it was a similar misplaced confidence in Firth's perspicacity which led Arthur E. Case to go one stage further and (among other things) put forward a sustained allegorical interpretation of Gulliver's experiences in Lilliput, centering on British politics between 1708 and 1715 and the fortunes (or misfortunes) of Swift's ministerial friends, Oxford and Bolingbroke, even though, as Kenyon remarks, "a trained historian … can casually make mincement of most of Firth's and Case's attributions."4
However, Case's views were accepted by the Swift establishment readily enough. Of Four Essays on "Gulliver's Travels", Harold Williams wrote that "the third essay, on 'Personal and Political Satire' in the Travels, is the best in the book, displaying discernment and balanced thought."5 For thirty years, the conviction that there was a consistent political allegory running through Gulliver's Travels was a critical commonplace. "Professor Case is ordinarily so authoritative," Edward Rosenheim, Jr., wrote in 1970, "that we tend to accept his information without question."6 It was for that reason that Case's discussion of personal and political satire was reprinted in various collections
of essays on Swift,7 and editions of Gulliver's Travels dating from these years—in other words, the ones almost invariably used by students—are inevitably accompanied by notes informing the reader of the import of the alleged political allegory. Even today, critics are to be found who accept Case's views. "To a large extent," Hermann J. Real and Heinz J. Vienken asserted in 1985, "'Gulliver in Lilliput' is a satirical vivisection of the intellectual and moral shortcomings of Whig politics between approximately 1708 and 1715."8
But what if, after all, Firth and Case were mistaken in assuming that Gulliver's Travels is a political allegory? Phillip Harth was the first to question the validity of the approach of the allegorical critics. In 1976, arguing that "Gulliver in Lilliput" is an "exemplary tale of the ingratitude of princes and the jealousy of ministers," Harth suggested that it was inappropriate to view Gulliver's adventures in Part I as an allegory of political events in early eighteenth-century Britain.9 Reviewing Harth's essay, Ken Robinson agreed that "he has the support of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics for his contention that the first book is simply allusive." Yet Robinson went on to suggest that Harth's "terms are misleading": "He claims to be abandoning an allegorical reading but is in fact only abandoning a particularized political allegory."10 For the first time, critics were beginning to argue about the terms used to describe what goes on in Gulliver's Travels. This was a significant development, to which I shall return.
The following year, 1977, I tried independently to emphasize the problems facing anyone wishing to argue that there is a consistent political allegory running through the book, or, indeed, any part of it, including "A Voyage to Lilliput.""11 What I did not suggest was that allusions to the politics of early eighteenth-century Britain could not be found. All I did was to question the approach of critics such as Firth and Case. Indeed, I concluded my essay by attempting to direct attention away from Part I and Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput—the traditional hunting ground for political allusions—to Part II and Gulliver's lengthy and meaty conversations with the King of Brobdingnag.12
By 1980, however, F. P. Lock was urging us largely to reject not only the specific identifications of Firth and the sustained political allegory of Case but "the accumulated weight of personal and particular allusions that has been read into the book by modern criticism."13 In order to substantiate his thesis, Lock had to ignore or to reinterpret contemporary evidence bearing on the political significance of Gulliver's Travels.14 Before we can evaluate "those puzzlingly particular annotations that have made generations of readers wonder why Swift clogs his general satire with so many topical references,"15 therefore, it is necessary to go back to the beginning—that is, to the first publication of the two volumes of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World.
"The clandestine comedy with which Swift surrounded the actual publication of Gulliver is well known," Lock writes.'16 Nevertheless, it must be rehearsed once more. Benjamin Motte, the publisher, was contacted on 8 August 1726 not by Swift in propria persona but by one Richard Sympson, whose covering letter, in the handwriting of John Gay, accompanied a copy of his cousin Mr. Lemuel Gulliver's manuscript. On receiving Motte's reply, Sympson asked for both volumes of Gulliver's account of his travels to "come out together and [to be] published by Christmas at furthest."17 Two days later Swift left London en route to Ireland. "Motte receiv'd the copy (he tells me) he knew not from whence, nor from whom, dropp'd at his house in the dark, from a Hackney-coach," Pope informed Swift; "by computing the time, I found it was after you left England, so for my part, I suspend my judgment."18 On 28 October 1726, Gulliver's Travels duly appeared.
Why did Swift go to the trouble of covering his tracks? "It was partly due to Swift's desire to preserve his anonymity," Lock suggests, "and partly out of his love of a good joke."19 "I congratulate you first upon what you call your Couzen's wonderful Book," Pope wrote to Swift on 16 November 1726. "That countenance with which it is received by some statesmen, is delightful," he continued:20
I find no considerable man very angry at the book: some indeed think it rather too bold, and too general a Satire: but none that I hear of accuse it of particular reflections (I mean no persons of consequence, or good judgment; the mob of Criticks, you know, always are desirous to apply Satire to those that they envy for being above them) so that you needed not to have been so secret upon this head.
How should Pope's words be interpreted? He rallied Swift upon what he took to have been the excessive secrecy surrounding Gulliver's appearance. Possibly he was also reassuring Swift about the personal nature of his satire: Pope felt that Swift's precautions were unnecessary in the event because no one "of consequence, or good judgment" had had the discernment (as yet) to apply the satire personally.
The next day, 17 November, Gay endorsed Pope's information:
The Politicians to a man agree, that it is free from particular reflections…. Not but we now and then meet with people of greater perspicuity, who are in search for particular applications in every leaf; and it is highly probable we shall have keys published to give light into Gulliver's design.21
Given twentieth-century approaches to Gulliver's Travels, Gay's percipience is impressive, even though (presumably) he had failed to keep up with events: a key had already been advertised in the Whitehall Evening Post for 8-10 November 1726.22 My point is this: why should both Pope and Gay take the trouble to assure Swift, in words that are virtually identical, that the consensus was that Gulliver is without "particular reflections"?
Significantly, Swift used the same vocabulary in replying to Pope, emphasizing that, in Dublin, if not in London, "the general opinion is, that reflections on particular persons are most to be blamed."23 Quite clearly, Swift and his friends had at least entertained the possibility that readers would try to find personal satire in Gulliver's Travels. The question is whether or not Swift intended that they should find allusions to contemporary events and politicians. Perhaps he had hoped to ruffle the feathers of those in high places, and had simply been trying to avoid any repercussions. When, over a year earlier, he had told Pope about the completion of his "newly Augmented" Travels, he had added the rider that they were "intended for the press when the world shall deserve them, or rather when a Printer shall be found brave enough to venture his Eares."24 This being the case, it is interesting that Swift's letter to Pope of 27 November 1726 concluded:
Let me add, that if I were Gulliver's friend, I would desire all my acquaintance to give out that his copy was basely mangled, and abused, and added to, and blotted out by the printer; for so to me it seems, in the second volume particularly.25
Motte had bravely published Gulliver's Travels and had been rewarded by seeing the "whole [first] impression sold in a week."26 But had he been brave enough?
The question of censorship is an important consideration when trying to assess the political significance of Gulliver's Travels. On a number of occasions Swift claimed that Motte had cut the manuscript he had been given to print. Pointing out that the first edition "abounds with many gross Errors of the Press," Charles Ford sent Motte a list of corrections on 3 January 1727.27 It is beyond reasonable doubt that Ford was acting on Swift's instructions. David Woolley suggests that: "It is probable from its substance and phrasing that this letter, though in Ford's autograph, was entirely composed by Swift, and similarly the list."28 Gay had transcribed "Richard Sympson's" earlier letter to Motte. Clearly Swift was determined to deal, for the time being, through intermediaries. In addition, we have the evidence of letters between Swift and Ford. "Now, you may please to remember how much I complained of Motts suffering some friend of his (I suppose it was Mr Took a Clergy-man now dead) not onely to blot out some things that he thought might give offence, but to insert a good deal of trash contrary to the Author's manner and Style, and Intention," Swift reminded Ford on 9 October 1733, when George Faulkner was preparing his edition of Swift's Works. "I think you had a Gulliver interleaved and set right in those mangled and murdered Pages."29 Ford's "interleaved" Gulliver is preserved in the Forster Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum.30
F P. Lock nonetheless discounts out of hand any suggestion that Motte censored Swift's text. "Certainty is impossible without new evidence, which is unlikely now to come to light," he suggests. "But reading Ford's letter in the light of Swift's love of jests and mystification makes it seem likely that the story of Motte's adulteration of the text of Gulliver's Travels was more of a joke than a serious complaint."31 Fortunately, Michael Treadwell has been able to offer such new evidence. Explaining in detail why Motte would "have been cautious about issuing a work like Gulliver, particularly had it contained the manuscript passages preserved in Ford's interleaved copy," Treadwell shows "that the Reverend Andrew Tooke was indeed a specialist in the kind of copy editing Swift accuses him of in the case of Gulliver's Travels, that he had the closest possible ties with Benjamin Motte and was, in fact, a sleeping partner in Motte's firm…. Such evidence does not, of course, prove Swift's claim that Motte and Tooke altered the text of Gulliver's Travels," Tread-well concludes, "but I believe that it adds so greatly to the inherent probability of that claim as to make any other explanation impossible to credit."32
Therefore it seems we must take Swift seriously when he solemnly told Pope that he had "observe[d] several passages which appear to be patched and altered, and the style of a different sort" in Parts III and IV in particular.33 In his corrected fourth octavo edition, published on 4 May 1727, Motte made all but three of the corrections listed in Ford's letter. However, even though Ford had also indicated where Swift's style had been tampered with, Motte failed to make any substantive additions to the text. This angered Swift more than anything else. "Had there been onely omissions, I should not care one farthing," Swift explained to Ford on 20 November 1733, "but change of Style, new things foysted in, that are false facts, and I know not what, is very provoking…. Besides, the whole Sting is taken out in severall passages, in order to soften them."34
Let us examine in detail one of the passages which, to Swift's annoyance, was allegedly altered in the first edition. Modern readers know that when he visits the Academy of Lagado, Gulliver relates his experiences "in the Kingdom of Tribnia, by the Natives called Langden," in which "the Bulk of the People consisted wholly of Discoverers, Witnesses, Informers, Accusers, Prosecutors, Evidences, Swearers; together with their several subservient and subaltern Instruments; all under the Colours, the Conduct, and pay of Ministers and their Deputies."35 Clearly Tribnia is an anagram of "Britain," Langden of "England," and it is generally accepted that Swift is referring here to the Atterbury case.36 But this is the reading of editions of Gulliver's Travels published from 1735 onwards. In the first edition, this famous satire on the politics of the 1720s reads rather differently, as Gulliver merely explains what he would do "should [he] happen to live in a Kingdom where Plots, and Conspiracies were either in vogue from the turbulency of the meaner People, or could be turned to the use and service of the higher Rank of them" (p. 311). Not only is the passage narrated in the conditional; the obvious anagrams are not be found.
According to Swift, Motte had deliberately tried to take the sting out of passages such as this, presumably to avoid possible repercussions in high places. Ford told Motte that it "seems to have much of the Author's manner of thinking, but in many places wants his Spirit."37 F. P. Lock doubts the veracity of such statements. "Although the passages (in both versions) contain several possible references to the Atterbury plot," he argues, "the variants do not seem to be at all influenced by considerations of political caution. Instead, they read like stylistic improvements." Lock regards the version given by Faulkner in 1735 as a revision in which Swift tries unhappily to make his political satire more topical, rather than as a restoration. "Unfortunately," he suggests, "along with the sharpness we are given the crudely intrusive anagrams that make the satire … needlessly specific."38
But if it was Swift's intention all along to make specific allusions to the politics of the 1720s, then it simply won't do to complain that his satire is "needlessly specific." Such an objection is a perfectly proper criticism of Gulliver's Travels, of course, but there is the accompanying danger that, in refusing to acknowledge what Swift was doing, Lock may be distorting his meaning. Swift claimed that the sting had been removed from parts of Gulliver's Travels. If that were indeed the case, then, presumably, Motte had changed the political significance of his book. We can take such allegations cum grano salis if we wish, and present subsequent substantive alterations as revisions. But let us be aware of what we are doing: in reasoning in this way, we are making assumptions about Swift's intentions. Lock's contention that Gulliver "was not even primarily intended as a critique of the Whig government then in power"39 is as much of an assumption as Firth's assertion that allusions to the events of the reigns of Queen Anne and George I "abound in the Travels" or Case's insistence on a sustained allegorical interpretation of Gulliver's experiences in Lilliput. The problem merits another look.
Swift claimed that the text of Gulliver's Travels was cut because it "may be thought in one or two places to be a little Satyrical."40 It is worth stressing that Swift's complaints related primarily to Parts III and IV, not to "A Voyage to Lilliput," which is where Firth and Case locate the book's major political significance. Soon after its publication, contemporaries were scrutinizing it not merely for "the Satire on general societies of men" but for "particular reflections." A Key, Being Observations and Explanatory Notes, upon the Travels of Lemuel Gulliver considered Part I in November 1726. It pointed out straightaway "that, under the Allegory of a Voyager, Mr. Gulliver gives us an admirable System of modern Politicks."41 Note that the author of the Key (most probably Edmund Curll) is quite specific: the allusions in Gulliver's Travels are to modern politics, that is, to the politics of the early eighteenth century. Unlike Firth, however, the author makes no attempt at a systematic analysis of Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput. Usually, he contents himself with suggesting resemblances; thus the temple "polluted some Years ago by an unnatural Murder, bears so near a Resemblance to the Banquetting-House at White-Hall, before which Structure, King CHARLES I, was Beheaded," "the Tramecksans, and the Slamecksans, exactly resemble our Whigs and Tories," "the Severities threatned against poor Lemuel, some here have resembled to the late Earl of O—d's Sufferings."42
It might prove worthwhile to look at these three alleged resemblances once more, because they could be taken as typical of the sort of parallels Swift has been accused of drawing in Gulliver's Travels. Ever since the Key attempted to "mythologize" the temple in which Gulliver was housed, critics have been prepared to consider the possibility that, for some reason, it was meant to stand for an actual edifice. It is hard to see why such an assumption should be made. There has been no suggestion hitherto in the narrative that features of the Lilliputian landscape should be taken as allusions to contemporary England. Why, therefore, should we assume that the reference to the temple requires "deciphering"? Where, indeed, are the allegorical pointers in Gulliver's description of the "ancient Temple"? "From the earliest commentaries it has been suggested that this refers to Westminster Hall in which Charles I had been condemned to death, but the real explanation may be," John Chalker sensibly notes, "that Swift had to justify the existence of an empty building large enough to contain Gulliver."43 As none of the suggestions put forward as a counterpart actually corresponds in any important detail to the description of "an ancient Temple, esteemed to be the largest in the whole Kingdom" (p. 27), narrative exigency rather than allegorical meaning seems a much sounder reason for Swift's reference to "an unnatural Murder."
Instead of proceeding on the assumption that features such as the temple are meant to suggest actual places in contemporary Europe, we should surely ask ourselves two questions. What is there in the text to indicate that such an allusion is being made? And what would be the point of the allusion? The author of the Key goes about his business in precisely the wrong way when he admits: "I must freely own I cannot find any other Pile in this Kingdom more à propos to Mr. Gulliver's Allusion."44 If he finds it difficult to identify what Swift is allegedly alluding to, then what put it into his head to suspect an allusion in the first place? His casual remark has influenced readers of Gulliver's Travels from 1726 to the present day. Had Swift wished to suggest the execution of Charles I, why did he mislead by housing Gulliver in a temple and not some more appropriate Lilliputian public building? Nor, seeing the alleged parallel is never developed, is it at all clear why Swift should wish to allude to Charles I's martyrdom in this way.
As far as the Tramecksan and the Slamecksan are concerned, there are no such difficulties. Gulliver reports Reldresal's description of Lilliputian party politics:
You are to understand, that for above seventy Moons past, there have been two struggling Parties in this Empire, under the Names of Tramecksan, and Slamecksan, from the high and low Heels on their Shoes, by which they distinguish themselves.
It is alledged indeed, that the High Heels are most agreeable to our ancient Constitution: But however this be, his Majesty hath determined to make use of only low Heels in the Administration of the Government, and all Offices in the Gift of the Crown; as you cannot but observe; and particularly, that his Majesty's Imperial Heels are lower at least by a Drurr than any of his Court…. We compute trie Tramecksan, or High-Heels, to exceed us in Number; but the Power is wholly on our Side. We apprehend his Imperial Highness, the Heir to the Crown, to have some Tendency towards the High-Heels; at least we can plainly discover one of his Heels higher than the other … (p. 48).
In this passage there are not only clear pointers alerting us to a possible parallel between Lilliputian politics and British politics, there are also good reasons why Swift should wish to allude to the state of the nation in this way. In the early eighteenth century, there were indeed "two parties" in the nation. Alternative names for Tories and Whigs were the High Church and the Low Church parties. The preservation of the constitution in Church and State was a fundamental tenet of Tory dogma, yet the government of George I was dominated by Whigs. Despite being nominal head of the Church of England, George I was not an Anglican, and therefore most decidedly not a High Churchman. The Tories were generally thought to comprise the majority of Englishmen. And finally the Prince of Wales, the future George II, was thought in 1726 to favor the Tories to a certain extent.
The author of the Key was not the only contemporary to think that "the Tramecksans, and the Slamecksans, exactly resemble our Whigs and Tories." It did not require much perspicacity to make the connection, which was even being noted in Court circles. Mrs. Howard wrote to Swift in November 1726 to tell him that the Princess of Wales "thinks you can not in Cod?mon Deciency appear in heels."45 Quite clearly, the allusion had been understood. In this instance, we have not only a general reflection on political parties, which is at once universal as well as specific, but particular reflections on George I and his son, the Prince of Wales. Doubtless, as far as the high heels and the low heels are concerned, I am stating the obvious, but it is worth spelling out that they serve as a perfect example of the way in which Gulliver's Travels comments specifically on the politics of early eighteenth-century Britain.
Yet there are problems even here. Presumably, for the comments on the state of political parties to be appropriate, let alone the references to George I and the Prince of Wales, we are to take it that Swift is alluding to the Britain of 1726, even though Gulliver's sojourn in Lilliput and Blefuscu is from 5 November 1699 to 24 September 1701.46 The dating causes difficulties. Reldresal says that "for above seventy Moons past, there have been two struggling Parties." "If one proceeds, as one surely must, on the assumption that the Voyage to Lilliput is a political allegory in which the events ending the War of the Spanish Succession are adumbrated, Gulliver's fire-extinguishing action stands for the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in April 1713," Vienken and Real contend (following Case). "Counting backwards seventy moons from 1713 lands one in the midst of the bitter party strife of 1707."47 Once again, we are making assumptions. Why should we set Reldresal's conversation with Gulliver in 1713 when, according to Gulliver, it actually took place some years earlier? Even if we suspect allegorical camouflage, why should we assume that Reldresal's figures are precise? After all, "above seventy Moons past" is scarcely specific.48 And why, if we believe Swift is using an accurate time-scale, should he wish to locate the origins of political parties in 1707, when the Whigs and Tories had emerged almost thirty years earlier? Finally, how does all this square with the idea that, in the figure of the Emperor of Lilliput, Swift is alluding to George I? 1699-1701 or 1713? Both? Or neither?
The Emperor of Lilliput is "a renowned Patron of Learning" (p. 26) and "an excellent Horseman," "strong and masculine, with an Austrian Lip, and arched Nose, his Complexion olive." He is "twenty-eight Years and three Quarters old, of which he had reigned about seven, in great Felicity, and generally victorious" (p. 30). Gulliver refers to him as "a most magnanimous Prince" (p. 36). Now Swift was not in the habit of praising the king, and this does not immediately strike one as a description of George I, who was 66 when Gulliver's Travels appeared. No amount of juggling with Swift's figures can make the Emperor of Lilliput's age correspond meaningfully with George I's (nor, indeed, with the age of any of the other candidates that have been put forward as the Emperor's original).49 It is of course possible to fall back on that old device of the political satirist, irony. As Swift advised in his "Directions for a Birthday Song:"
Thus your Encomiums, to be strong,
Must be apply'd directly wrong:
A Tyrant for his Mercy praise,
And crown a Royal Dunce with Bays:
A squinting Monkey load with charms;
And paint a Coward fierce in arms.
Is he to Avarice inclin'd?
Extol him for his generous mind….50
It is for this reason that Case suggests that "the Emperor was described as being almost the exact antithesis of George [I]."51
By 1729, when Swift wrote his "Directions," the Scriblerians had made it their practice, in their onslaught on the Hanoverian Court, to "descant/On Virtues which they know they want."52 Although Reldresal's description of the state of the parties in Lilliput does not seem appropriate either to the years around 1700 or to those around 1713, it corresponds quite strikingly with the situation in 1726. If the passage I have quoted is meant to allude to contemporary politics, surely the most obvious place to look for its significance is the era in which Gulliver's Travels was actually published. To proceed otherwise seems perverse. Unfortunately, when Firth looked at Part I, he wrongly believed it had been written from 1714 onwards, rather than in the early 1720s; therefore he looked for allusions to the earlier period, and, in elaborating his sustained political allegory, Case seems to have followed suit.
Real and Vienken, on the other hand, would appear to want it both ways: in their view, although "'Gulliver in Lilliput' is a satirical vivisection" of the politics of the years "between approximately 1708 and 1715,"53 they nevertheless refer to "His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Lilliput, alias thick, awkward, ungainly George I,"54 even though, as F.P.Lock has pointed out, such an interpretation "hopelessly conflates the reigns of Anne and George, making Anne (the Empress) George's wife"!55 This would seem to be a crucial consideration: can "Gulliver in Lilliput" be both a sustained allegory of "the joint political fortunes of Oxford and Bolingbroke during the latter half of Queen Anne's reign," as Case and Real and Vienken contend, and, at the same time, a satire of George I?56 For all this to work, Gulliver's Travels would need a double, nay, a treble time scheme: in addition to the dates Gulliver supplies for his travels, and the actual date of publication, 1726, we would need, at least in the Lilliputian sequences, a further timescale.
This brings us to the third of the Key's "resemblances":
The Severities threatned against poor Lemuel, some here have resembled to the late Earl of O—d's Sufferings, and if you will allow any Parallel, then,
Skyris Bolgolam High Admiral.
Flimnap the High Treasurer.
Limtoc the General.
Lalcon the Chamberlain.
Balmuff the grand Justiciary, and the Articles of Impeachment by them exhibited, need no other Key than the Posts assigned them.57
Quite clearly, in their search for political allusions in Gulliver's Travels, contemporaries were prepared to look back to the events of the previous decade. But was that Swift's intention or merely another assumption? The author of the Key is much more tentative than Gulliver's twentieth-century commentators: "some here have resembled" virtually denies responsibility for drawing such a parallel.
The terminology he employs is interesting: Gulliver's experience is not described as an allegorical representation of Oxford's impeachment, simply as a possible parallel case. In other words, depending on one's politics, one could, if one was so disposed, see a similarity between Lilliputian ingratitude towards Gulliver and the disgraceful treatment meted out to the man who had successfully ended the War of the Spanish Succession. For this allusion to work, there is no need for an extended political allegory, no subtle representation of the impeachment of either Oxford or Bolingbroke or both: Swift has simply supplied an analogy to their predicament in 1715. If "you will allow any Parallel, then" the quaintly-named Lilliputian ministers refer to their actual counterparts in 1715. "As to Limtoc the General," the author of the Key continues, "I heard all his History at Marlborough in Wiltshire."
The three last-named Lilliputian ministers—Limtoc, Lalcon, Balmuff—are mentioned on this occasion only. However, the histories of Skyresh Bolgolam, the High Admiral, "a Person well versed in Affairs, but of a morose and sour Complection … [who] was pleased, without any Provocation, to be [Gulliver's] mortal Enemy" (p. 42), and Flimnap, the High Treasurer, who could "cut a Caper on the strait Rope, at least an Inch higher than any other Lord in the whole Empire" (p. 38), were developed by Swift at greater length. To what end? The opportunity for political characterization has been too great for ingenious twentieth-century commentators to pass up. Given that Firth suspected that in Gulliver's Travels "many figures which seem to be imaginary are meant to depict real personages, or at all events are drawn from them," it is hardly surprising that he tried to identify the counterparts of Skyresh Bolgolam and Flimnap.
According to the Key, all that is necessary to interpret the allusion to Skyresh Bolgolam is the reference to his position in the government. He was High Admiral; therefore Swift must be alluding to his British equivalent in 1715, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Edward Russell, Earl of Orford. That was too simple for Firth. He felt Bolgolam was "clearly intended to represent the Earl of Nottingham. The 'morose and sour complexion' attributed to Bolgolam at once suggests the identification."58 Case also plumps for Nottingham, though for different reasons.59 But if Swift wished to suggest Nottingham, then why assign the post of High Admiral to him, when, under George I, Nottingham was Lord President of the Council? Once again, one wonders whether narrative exigency rather than political characterization is at the bottom of Swift's description of Skyresh Bolgolam as "morose," rather than an obscure attempt to allude to Nottingham. If Swift wished to allude to Nottingham, why, in describing Bolgolam, did he call him "morose" instead of clinching the point by making use of Nottingham's nickname of "Dismal"? And why did Swift not make Bolgolam chief amongst the Emperor of Lilliput's councillors, rather than High Admiral?
Flimnap also "had always been [Gulliver's] secret Enemy, although he outwardly caressed [him] more than was usual to the Moroseness of his Nature" (p. 64). Once again, Swift draws attention to a Lilliputian's "Moroseness," and if "no other Key" is necessary "than the Posts assigned" the Lilliputians, then Flimnap must be identified as Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, First Lord of the Treasury in 1715. Yet, as Firth pointed out, Flimnap "was obviously designed to represent Walpole, as all commentators agree."60 Even the author of the key made the identification, when he ended his account of the rope-dancing thus: "With how much Glee will a T[ownshen]d, or a W[al]p[ol]e read this Pygmaean Account of Flimnap and Reldresal."61 What are we to make of it all? Walpole was not Lord Treasurer in 1715: he wasn't even a treasury commissioner! If Gulliver's impeachment is meant to be part of a consistent allegorical representation of the experiences of either Oxford or Bolingbroke or both, then there are serious difficulties over the characters of Skyresh Bolgolam and Flimnap.
When he put forward his thesis, Case admitted that "the burden of proof lies on the shoulders of anyone who argues that the political allegory is consistent," yet he concluded his discussion of "A Voyage to Lilliput" by asserting that the "strongest arguments in favor" of his interpretation were "its consistency and the exactness with which it follows the chronology of the events which it symbolizes."62 Case's claims have been strongly disputed.63 Why must we assume that "Gulliver in Lilliput" refers consistently to the latter half of the reign of Queen Anne, when the evidence points in a different direction? If Swift is somehow getting at George I when he describes the conduct of the Emperor of Lilliput, then two basic conclusions can be drawn: first, the Lilliputian characters are not really "drawn from" real personages, even if they are meant to call them to mind; and second, Swift's method of alluding to contemporary politics is not consistent. Once these reservations are conceded, things begin to slot into place. Despite the vast dissimilarities between the Emperor of Lilliput (as described by Gulliver) and George I, the odd detail is supplied to assist the contemporary reader to make the comparison.64 In the same way, although Walpole was not Lord Treasurer in 1715, most references to Flimnap are meant to satirize Walpole.
After all, this is the basic technique used by the Scriblerians when they made their "particular reflections." When the government prevented Polly, the sequel to The Beggar's Opera, from being staged, Gay printed it. In a preface, he denied that his play was "fill'd with slander and calumny against particular great persons," much less that "Majesty it-self is endeavour'd to be brought into ridicule and contempt."65 Notice once again the insistence that this "general" satire of British society is free of "particular reflections." "Polly, as it was eventually published," John Fuller suggests, "appears to be no more, indeed perhaps rather less, slanted against Walpole than" The Beggar's Opera.66 However, in drawing attention to the alleged political significance of his play in his preface, Gay supervised the way in which it would be read by contemporaries. Whether or not they would otherwise have looked for "slander and calumny against particular great persons" or the "ridicule and contempt" of majesty, in the person of George II, Gay's denial alerted them to the possibility. And of course, in Polly, not only are there a number of implicit criticisms of Walpole as the "Great Man," George II's conduct is compared with that of Pohetohee.67
Our reading of Gulliver's Travels is not supervised in quite this way, but Gay had learned the technique of drawing parallels between actual persons and their fictional counterparts from Swift. The Emperor of Lilliput is not George I in any simple way: he is not, in Firth's terms, "meant to depict" the King of England, nor is he drawn from him. But Swift forces us to compare the two. His method is one of analogy: reasoning from parallel cases. There is no need for him to present a consistent allegory to score his political point. The Scriblerian technique of commenting on topical politics is not a complex one: it consists merely of implying criticism by drawing parallels between the existing situation and what might otherwise obtain. Swift makes this clear in the concluding chapter to Gulliver, when he asks us to compare the way the Houyhnhnms run their country with what tends to happen at home: "For, who can read of the Virtues I have mentioned in the glorious Houyhnhnms, without being ashamed of his own Vices, when he considers himself as the reasoning, governing Animal of his Country?" (p. 292).
The similarities or "resemblances" that exist between the Tories and Whigs and the High-heels and Lowheels are obvious. The same method can be seen at work when Gulliver describes the dispute between the Bigendians and the Little-endians. I prefer to call what Swift is doing "parallel history" rather than "allegory."68 The technique is not vastly different from the polemical strategy Swift adopted in his first political work, A Discourse of the Contests and Dissentions between the Nobles and the Commons in Athens and Rome.69 A clear example of this occurs in Part III when Gulliver, in Glubbdubdrib, compares "some English Yeomen of the old Stamp" with their grandchildren, to the detriment of the latter (p. 201). This incident might be said to epitomize his method: just as in conclusion he asks you to compare humans with Houyhnhnms as governing animals, so in Glubbdubdrib he holds up two examples for comparison.
In comparing "English Yeomen of the old Stamp" with their degenerate successors, Swift is implicitly condemning the Britain of the 1720s. In Gulliver's Travels, he is concerned not so much with re-fighting the battles of the previous reign as attacking the system of Walpole. After all, that is the actual historical context of the book: he brought the manuscript to England in 1726 on a visit which was undertaken at least partly in order to confront Walpole personally with what Swift felt to be the deleterious consequences of his administration's policies. The political significance of Gulliver's Travels, in Firth's terms,70 can, I think, be summed up readily enough: Swift comments in a number of ways on the state of the nation in 1726, satirizing the monarchy and the government of Walpole. From time to time he also alludes to the events of earlier years, such as the Atterbury affair of 1722. He even draws parallels with the divisions in religion and politics which by 1726 had been part of English life for so many years. If he alludes to contemporary figures, such allusions assume no more than local allegorical significance: the evidence for a sustained political allegory is strained and raises more questions than it attempts to solve. Many of those "puzzlingly particular annotations" which students find, to their undoubted surprise, in the notes to the various texts of Gulliver can be discounted. Swift's allusions to topical politics are rarely that obtrusive: because of the "general" character of much of the satire in Gulliver's Travels, it is more profitable, in the later twentieth century, to apply them generally as well.
1 C. H. Firth, "The Political Significance of Gulliver's Travels," Proceedings of the British Academy (1919-1920), 237-59.
2Times Literary Supplement, 2 May 1980, p. 494.
3 Davies, Preface to C. H. Firth, Essays Historical and Literary (Oxford, 1938), p. v, emphasis added.
4 Arthur E. Case, Four Essays on Gulliver's Travels (Princeton, 1945), pp. 69-96; TLS, 2 May 1980, p. 494.
5Review of English Studies, 23 (1947), 368.
6 Edward Rosenheim, Jr., "Swift and the Atterbury Case," in The Augustan Milieu: Essays Presented to Louis A. Landa, ed. H. K. Miller, Eric Rothestein, and G. S. Rousseau (Oxford, 1970), p. 194.
7 See, for example, Discussions of Jonathan Swift, ed. John Traugott (Boston, 1962), pp. 105-20; Jonathan Swift: A Critical Anthology, ed. Denis Donoghue (Harmondsworth, Mddx., 1971), pp. 317-42.
8 Hermann J. Real and Heinz J. Vienken, "The Structure of Gulliver's Travels, " Proceedings of the First Munster Symposium on Jonathan Swift, ed. Hermann J. Real and Heinz J. Vienken (Munich, 1985), p. 203.
9 Phillip Harth, "The Problem of Political Allegory in Gulliver's Travels, " Modern Philology, 73 (1976), S40-47.
10The Year's Work in English Studies, 57 (1976), 223.
11 J. A. Downie, "Political Characterization in Gulliver's Travels," Yearbook of English Studies, 7 (1977), 108-20.
12 Downie, "Political Characterization," pp. 118-20.
13 F. P. Lock, The Politics of Gulliver's Travels (Oxford, 1980), p. 3.
14 For instance, Lock refused to consider the question of the "Armagh" Gulliver, which is treated magisterially by David Woolley in "Swift's Copy of Gulliver's Travels: The Armagh Gulliver, Hyde's Edition, and Swift's Earliest Corrections," in The Art of Jonathan Swift, ed. Clive T. Probyn (London, 1978), pp. 131-78. "The complexity of the evidence and arguments involved precludes my indicating in detail why I disagree with Woolley's conclusions," Lock claimed, "particularly since they affect my own only indirectly" (p. 75 n). This was a strange assertion to make, seeing that Lock was arguing that the first edition of Swift's book accurately represented his intentions. He returned to the subject in "The Text of Gulliver's Travels," Modern Language Review, 76 (1981), 513-33. For a critique of this article, see the Scriblerian, 15 (1982-83), 19.
I shall deal with Lock's re-interpretations in the body of my essay.
15 Lock, Politics, p. 3.
16 Lock, Politics, p. 70.
17The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams, rev. David Woolley, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1963-72), III, 152-55; hereafter cited as Corresp.
18Corresp., III, 181.
19 Lock, Politics, p. 70.
20Corresp., III, 181.
21Corresp., III, 182-23.
22Gulliveriana VI: Critiques of "Gulliver's Travels" and Allusions Thereto: Book One, intro. Jeanne K. Welcher and George E. Bush, Jr. (Delmar, NY, 1976), p. xiii.
23Corresp., III, 189.
24Corresp., III, 102.
25Corresp., III, 190.
26Corresp., III, 182.
27Corresp., III, 194-95; cf. Woolley, pp. 161-65.
28 Woolley, p. 144.
29Corresp., IV, 197-98.
30 Victoria and Albert Museum, Forster Collection, no. 8551.
31 Lock, Politics, p. 78.
32 Michael Treadwell, "Benjamin Motte, Andrew Tooke and Gulliver's Travels, " Proceedings of the First Münster Symposium, pp. 288-89.
33Corresp., III, 189.
34Corresp., IV, 211-12.
35Gulliver's Travels, in [The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift], ed. Herbert Davis et al., XI (rev. ed., 1959; Oxford, 1965), 191. Subsequent references are to this edition, and page numbers are supplied in the body of the text within parentheses.
36 See Rosenheim, pp. 174-204; cf. Lock, Politics, p. 81.
37 Woolley, p. 164.
38 Lock, Politics, pp. 81-82. More recently, Brean S. Hammond has drawn attention to the same passage to argue that "at least one episode in Gulliver's Travels … does meet the most rigid conditions demanded by Lock" in order for the claim that political allegory is at work to be valid. Hammond, however, fails to take into account the discrepancy between Motte's edition and Faulkner's edition. See the Clark Newsletter, 12 (1987), 2-4.
39 Lock, Politics, p. 2.
40Corresp., III, 153.
41A Key, Being Observations and Explanatory Notes, upon the Travels of Lemuel Gulliver. By Signor Corolini, a Noble Venetian Now Residing in London. In a Letter to Dean Swift. Translated from the Italian Original (London, 1726), p. 5.
42A Key, pp. 7, 19-20, 26.
43 Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, ed. Peter Dixon and John Chalker, intro. Michael Foot (Harmondsworth, Mddx., 1967), p. 349.
44A Key, p. 8.
45Corresp., III, 185.
46 There is confusion over the dating of Gulliver's sojourn in Lilliput. According to his own account, he left Bristol on 4 May 1699, was shipwrecked on 5 November, set sail from Blefuscu on 24 September 1701, and arrived in the Downs on 13 April 1702 (pp. 20, 78-79). Yet he refers to "a Residence of nine Months and thirteen Days" in Lilliput (p. 63). Clearly, there is a discepancy here, which is perhaps explicable by Gulliver's letter to Sympson: "Your Printer hath been so careless as to confound the Times, and mistake the Dates of my several Voyages and Returns; neither assigning the true Year, or the true Month, or Day of the Month" (p. 7). However, Case (p. 64) suggests that Gulliver arrived in Lilliput on 5 November 1700 (not 1699), although there is nothing in the text to suggest what happened between 4 May 1699 and 5 November 1700. One thing is clear: in the light of this initial discrepancy, it would appear to be unwise to construct elaborate allegories using the dates supplied by Gulliver.
47 Heinz J. Vienken and Hermann J. Real, "Ex Libris J. S.: Annotating Swift," Proceedings of the First Münster Symposium, p. 316.
48 It is also ambiguous. Vienken and Real assume that Swift is referring to "a 'moon', or lunar year … a period of thirty days" (p. 316), yet one can take the alternative view that, regardless of the "exotic" usage, a "moon" is meant to represent a calendar year. Lilliputian histories go back "six Thousand Moons": is this meant to suggest a period of less than 500 years (if a "moon" is thirty days) or 6,000 years—often cited as the traditional age of the earth? Whichever conclusion we choose to draw, one more thing is clear: unless we can be certain that Swift is talking about lunar years, it would appear to be unwise to "proceed … on the assumption" that we are to count backwards from April 1713 for "above seventy" periods of thirty days.
49 On account of his "arched Nose, " William III was first suggested as the original of the Emperor (A Key, pp. 8-9). Lock plumps for Louis XIV (Politics, p. 116).
50The Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (Oxford, 1958), II, 464; hereafter cited as Poems.
51 Case, p. 71.
52Poems, p. 391.
53 Real and Vienken, "Structure," p. 203.
54 Vienken and Real, "Ex Libris J. S.," p. 313.
55 Lock, Politics, p. 107.
56 Case, p. 70.
57A Key, p. 26.
58 Firth, p. 242.
59 Case, p. 72.
60 Firth, p. 244.
61A Key, p. 13.
62 Case, pp. 70, 79.
63 Downie, "Political Characterization," pp. 109-15; Lock, Politics, pp. 106 ff.
64 Vienken and Real, "Ex Libris J. S.," p. 313.
65 John Gay, Dramatic Works, ed. John Fuller, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1983), II, 70.
66 Gay, I, 53.
67 On this point, see J. A. Downie, "Gay's Politics," John Gay and the Scriblerians, ed. Nigel Wood, forthcoming.
68 The terminology is important only insofar as it relates to the political significance of Gulliver's Travels. The word allegory derives from the Greek, and means "speaking otherwise than one seems to speak" (allos, other; -agoria, speaking). In that many episodes in Gulliver's Travels are extended metaphors carrying one or more sets of meanings in addition to the apparent and literal ones, in this sense they are perforce allegorical. In Gulliver's Travels, as I have argued, Swift alludes to topical politics in a number of ways. However, as there is no extended, particularized political allegory, such allusions are not sufficiently developed to assume more than local allegorical significance. In one sense, therefore, it might be misleading to use the term allegory. Hence my preference for the more precise parallel history, a phrase which Swift's contemporaries would undoubtedly have comprehended. See, for example, the London Magazine's résumé of an essay appearing in the Free Briton no. 124 (13 April 1732): "THE Craftsman has lately had Recourse to his ancient Method of defaming by Parallel History … wherein, as of old in the Tyrant's Bed, all Characters are rack'd and tortur'd, to make them agree to his political Standard." In its own précis of the same article, the Gentleman's Magazine also refers to "Parallel History" as the Craftsman's "ancient Method."
It is hardly worth pointing out that the early Craftsman was largely responsible for drawing attention to the possible political significance of Gulliver's Travels.
69 J. A. Downie, "Swift's Discourse: Allegorical Satire or Parallel History?" Swift Studies, 2 (1987), 25-32.
70 In this essay, I have restricted myself to consideration of the political significance of Gulliver's Travels in the sense intended by Sir Charles Firth, who was not concerned with the distinction made by hermeneuticians between Sinn and Bedeutung—terms that have been Englished by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., as "meaning" and "significance" (see Validity in Interpretation [New Haven, 1967], pp. 211-12). In that Firth was concerned with Swift's intentions in Gulliver's Travels, what he was actually considering was the work's Sinn or meaning, and not, in Hirsch's terms, its Bedeutung or significance.
It could be argued that any discussion of the political significance of Gulliver's Travels should take into account its meaning to us today, either instead of or as well as its meaning to Swift's contemporaries. Perhaps this is what F. P. Lock is primarily concerned with when he writes that "Gulliver's Travels remains surprisingly relevant to the politics of the twentieth century" (Politics, p. 35).
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8055
SOURCE: "Gulliver's Travels and the Novel," in The Genres of "Gulliver's Travels," edited by Frederik N. Smith, University of Delaware Press, 1990, pp. 56-74.
[In the following essay, Hunter discusses the significance of Gulliver's Travels as a cutting-edge transitional text that uses satire to parody the subjective, first-person narrative, thus anticipating the rise of the novel as a narrative form.]
Gulliver's Travels is not a novel in any meaningful sense of that slippery term that I know, yet its generic status would be difficult to establish without having the novel in mind. Swift's masterpiece is, in fact, so conceptually dependent upon the novel that it is almost impossible to imagine the existence of the Travels outside the context of the developing novelistic tradition. The relationship of Gulliver's Travels to the novel has been obscured, however, by two contextual matters, one historical, the other generic. The historical issue involves the fact that the Travels appears when the English novel had barely begun, and it is difficult for us to think of it as involved in the tradition. With only Defoe, among major English novelists, having yet tried the waters, with the issue of definition still two decades away from even being broached, and with the great craze for novel-reading and novel-writing also still well in the future, how can it be meaningful to think of there yet being a tradition of the novel even though there are some few discernible examples? Unless one regards the Travels as a kind of paradigm—positive or negative—for the tradition, how can one think of it as involved in a tradition-to-be? The second issue, although generic, does not involve the genre of the novel; rather it involves parody and the assumptions we make about its strategy of working from, imitating, and trying to tease or embarrass a particular writer or work. Because of the way we define parody, we do not usually think of Swift as a parodist, and I think we miss something about both Swift and the possibilities of parody by the standard definition. I shall, then, first try to suggest in what sense Swift is a parodist and show how some of his parody works; second, I shall try to suggest how his particular type of parody enables him to associate himself with the developing tradition of the novel; finally, and more briefly, I shall try to suggest how the Travels works as a kind of parodie answer to the early novel and as a satire of the novelistic consciousness.
The many faces of Jonathan Swift often remind us of his contemporaries, and there is seldom a moment in his best satires when he is not helping some fool or knave to stand forth and profess a muddled—but nevertheless distinctive and definable—set of values and opinions. Snoop that he is, Swift spends a lot of time in other people's consciousnesses, trying to organize in some memorable way what he finds there. Whether as tale-teller or voyager, modest economist or befuddled Christian apologist, panegyricist of the world and the number three or putative satirist disappointed that all human folly has not been extirpated in six months, Swift is ever the impersonator, borrowing his voice from someone else. We recognize his antagonists clearly—clearly, that is, until we try to be specific, and then we often discover how very little we know about whom he has personated. About some few, everyone can agree: in A Tale of a Tub, William Wotton, Richard Bentley, John Dryden, and Sir Roger L'Estrange, for example, or in Meditation upon a Broomstick, Robert Boyle. But agreement is possible only because Swift himself names the originals. How good, then, is Swift as a parodist, or (to put the issue more aptly for my argument) is he the kind of parodist through whom one hears the voice of the original: I wish to examine Swift's strategy of personation in a very simplified form, hoping to sort out how his attention to particular writers blends into a broader concern for style and the implication of style. Two of Swift's short minor works offer interesting test cases of Swift's skill and method, for they are "pure" examples of Swift as a parodist in the sense that both the works—The Last Speech and Dying Words of Ebenezor Elliston and A Meditation upon a Broomstick—pretend to be real works by a real person.
In The Last Speech and Dying Words, Swift alludes to a popular subgenre of an important paraliterary form, the "dying confessional" of a criminal about to be executed. Such confessionals, obviously prepared well in advance of the occasion by prison ordinaries, hacks, and booksellers, were hawked about at the execution itself, and their conventional pieties, tearful abjuration of past crimes, and invocation of God's mercy evidently ministered to the audience's need to feel the public usefulness of the occasion. Swift cuts through the easy pieties and has Elliston forego repentance and dispense with the usual rhetoric. Instead, he substitutes a vivid account of knaves driven by baser motives than poverty or ill luck:
If any Thing in this World be like Hell … the truest Picture of it must be in the Back-Room of one of our Alehouses at Midnight; where a Crew of Robbers and their Whores are met together after a Booty, and are beginning to grow drunk; from which Time, until they are past their Senses, is such a continued horrible Noise of Cursing, Blasphemy, Lewdness, Scurrility, and brutish Behaviour; such Roaring and Confusion, such a Clatter of Mugs and Pots at each other's Heads; that Bedlam, in Comparison, is a sober and orderly Place: At last they all tumble from their Stools and Benches, … and generally the Landlord or his Wife, or some other Whore …, picks their Pockets before they wake.1
And Swift's Elliston offers a particular incentive to reform, one very different from the high-minded hopes in the usual confessionals.
Now, as I am a dying Man, something I have done which may be of good Use to the Publick. I have left with an honest Man (and indeed the only honest Man I was ever acquainted with) the Names of all my wicked Brethren, the present Places of their Abode, with a short Account of the chief Crimes they have committed; in many of which I have been their Accomplice, and heard the rest from their own Mouths: I have likewise set down the Names of those we call our Setters, of the wicked Houses we frequent, and of those who receive and buy our stolen Goods. I have solemnly charged this honest Man … that whenever he hears of any Rogue to be tryed for robbing, or House-breaking, he will look into his List, and if he finds the Name there of the Thief concerned, to send the whole Paper to the Government. Of this I here give my Companions fair and publick Warning, and hope they will take it. (p. 39)
Prince Posterity has luckily preserved for us the "authentic" last words of Ebenezor Elliston, which, of course, are utterly conventional and predictable. Elliston repents his life of crime, claims he was framed in the fatal instance, and hopes others will learn from his bad example. At least one critic has suggested that Swift's style is "an almost perfect parody" of Elliston's own.2 But I find no stylistic resemblance whatever. Unlike the hard, clear syntax that Swift's Elliston uses to express his smug toughness, the real Elliston speaks like this:
… the Roberies which I was concerned in from October 1719 to January 1720 were so many that I cannot give a true account of them all, but leave them aside, and come to acquaint you of my last misfortunes some small time before Christmas last for some reasons best known to my self, not for any Roberies that I committed, I left my House and Familly, and took a private Lodging, in which time there was a Roberey committed on the Gravel Walk on a Captain, which robbery, one Elizabeth Gorden I believe by the perswasions of a Man in power in this City went before the Lord-Mayor and as I am informed swore that I and two or three other Persons in my Company committed the said robbery, which I now declare that Neither they or I had any Hand whatsoever in it, for which Mr. H——s made it his Business to haunt Night and Day for me, and also informed several Persons, that there was Twenty Pounds Reward for any one who would Apprehend me, so that I might be brought to Justice, for which Several People as well as himself made it their Business to look for me, but God knows how Innocent I was at that Time of Committing any Manner of Robbery whatsoever, but to avoid Dangers, I made my Case known to several of my Friends, who advised me to leave this Town, whose advice I took, but Unfortunately I was concerned with another person in taking Counsellor Sweeny's Mare.3
It is not really surprising that Swift does not closely imitate Elliston's prose style, for his audience would not have known Ebenezor Elliston's style even if there had been one. We need not suppose he would even have cared to see this particular "real" confession; it was enough for his audience to know what kind of thing it was likely to be. The Last Speech and Dying Words of Ebenezor Elliston plainly is not an attack upon an individual person or an individual style but rather upon custom, a particular subspecies of literature that grew out of that custom, and a cheap and self-congratulatory morality that was both a cause and result of such "confessions." There must be some idea in the audience's mind of what the "last speech and dying words" tradition is like, but Elliston himself is irrelevant, ultimately, and so is his flaccid, rambling (and possibly genuine) prose.4
We might, on the other hand, expect a close verbal imitation in Swift's Meditation upon a Broomstick, for there he personates a writer whose style was distinctive and well known to his audience. Thomas Sheridan's anecdote about the occasion of Swift's Meditation is well known.5 Swift, as a guest of Lord and Lady Berkeley in London, was often asked to attend Lady Berkeley's private devotions, and Lady Berkeley's excessive fondness for Boyle's meditations led her to ask Swift to read repeatedly from them. Swift's careful insertion of his own manuscript imitation in the volume, his solemn reading of it, Lady Berkeley's effusive praise of it first in private and then among company who knew Boyle's meditations well enough to know that there was no such meditation—knowledge of these carefully planned steps of the hoax may add to our appreciation of Swift's finely tuned absurdities:
This single Stick, which you now behold ingloriously lying in that neglected Corner, I once knew in a flourishing State in a Forest: It was full of Sap, full of Leaves, and full of Boughs: But now, in vain does the busy Art of Man pretend to vye with Nature, by tying that withered Bundle of Twigs to its sapless Trunk: It is now at best but the Reverse of what it was; a Tree turned upside down, the Branches on the Earth, and the Root in the Air: It is now handled by every dirty Wench, condemned to do her Drugery; and by a capricious Kind of Fate, destined to make other things clean and be nasty it self.
But a Broom-stick, perhaps you will say, is an Emblem of a Tree standing on its Head; and pray what is Man but a topsy-turvy Creature?6
The "parody" is brilliant, but it is hard to say exactly how it works because it is hard to say exactly what is parodied. A quick reading makes Swift's Meditation seem quite like Boyle, except for the distortion crucial to parody, but on detailed comparison the similarities become hard to find. No single Boyle meditation has ever been regarded as the model for Swift's parody, and for a very good reason. None of Boyle's meditations is much like Swift's version, either in subject matter or style. The first meditation in Boyle's 1665 volume is perhaps the closest to Swift:
Upon his manner of giving meat to his dog.
Ignorantly thankful creature, thou beggest in such a way, that by way would appear an antedated gratitude, if it were not a designless action, the manner of thy petitioning before-hand, rewards the grant of thy request; thy addresses and recompence being so made and ordered, that the meat I cast thee may very well feed religion in me. For, but observe this dog, I hold him out meat, and my inviting voice loudly encourages and invites him to take it: it is held indeed higher than he can leap; and yet, if he leap not at it, I do not give it him; but if he do….7
But there is not much phraseological or syntactic similarity, and the argument is developed in a very different way. Boyle has favorite words and devices that distinguish him from other meditators (he likes the word "divers" so much, for example, that he once uses it four times in a single paragraph, and many of his meditations are actually dialogues), but Swift pays no attention to these distinctive and easy-to-parody strategies. It is as if he cared not at all for distinctive stylistic devices or even for obvious structural principles. What then makes it a parody of Boyle and not of someone else? The answer, I am afraid, is that one would have a very hard time proving that it is a parody of Boyle if it were not for a published subtitle that asserts such a parody and for the fact of Thomas Sheridan's anecdote.8 If we were to put it beside the meditative effusions of, say John Flavell, we could just as easily think it parodied him. Here is a typical beginning of one of Flavell's meditations in Husbandry Spiritualized, or The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things (1669):
Upon the sight of a fair spreading Oak.
What a lofty flourishing Tree is here? It seems rather to be a little Wood, than a single Tree; every limb thereof having the dimensions and branches of a Tree in it; and yet as great as it is, it was once but a little slip, which one might pull up with two fingers; this vast body was contained virtually, and potentially in a small Acorn. Well, then, I will never despise the day of small things, nor despair of arriving to an eminency of grace, though at present it be but as a bruised reed, and the things that are in me, be ready to dye. As things in nature, so the things of the Spirit, grow up to their fulness and perfection, by slow and insensible degrees. The famous and heroical acts of the most renowned believers, were such as themselves could not once perform, or it may be think they ever should. Great things both in nature and grace, come from small and contemptible beginnings.9
There is not much to choose between Boyle and Flavell as meditators, although each has individual stylistic features. That Swift chooses not to imitate individual stylistic features suggests that the specifics of style are not his consuming interest. A bright undergraduate with a modestly good ear could come much closer to Boyle than Swift does; unless we judge Swift a thoroughly incompetent personator, we must assume that his interests here lie beyond parody that is individual and personal.
But the objects of laughter in Swift's Meditation suggest a cogent and coherent satiric target that would explain Swift's parodic aims and at the same time answer the recurrent charges that it was at least uncharitable, if not downright impious, to attack a man of Boyle's righteousness in the first place. Four things call undue attention to themselves in Swift's version of meditation. First is the strained analogy set up between the broomstick and a human being, based on an inversion of the traditional topos comparing man to a tree. Second is the subtly self-congratulatory, egocentric, even solipsistic, manner in which the analogy is asserted:
When I beheld this, I sighed, and said within myself Surely Mortal Man is a Broomstick….
Third is the fact that the broomstick is a chance object for meditation. It is simply something at hand—"this broomstick in that neglected corner"—and seems to the speaker as good as any other as a possible object of meditation, rather like Donne's flea or Marvell's dewdrop, which also take their cue from the homiletic tradition of concrete exempla: "Mark but this flea …" and "This single stick…. " The fourth feature is what gives Swift's Meditation away as a parody rather than a failed serious effort. The object in question is not a natural object but a man-made one, and this distortion of a meditationist's procedure calls quick attention to the fact that the meditator was stretching the rules, as observed by the likes of Boyle and serious imitators like Flavell, for they had usually concentrated on human activities and observation of objects or patterns in the natural world. Boyle, for example, had meditated "Upon the Sight of some variously-coloured clouds," "Upon the sight of a fair milk-maid singing to her cow," and "Upon one's talking to an echo," and Flavell upon such inspired subjects as "Upon the Sudden Withering of a Rose" or "Upon the Pulling up of a Leek."
But Boyle and Flavell were stretching the rules too; they seriously distort the earlier meditative tradition. The tradition of Christian meditation had regularly devoted itself to biblical events, especially highlights in the life of Christ, or to set contemplations that produced a proper state of serene devotion in the meditator.10 Meditations were not random, nor did they concentrate on trival objects or observations. The distortion of the new meditators was conscious as well as contrived. Boyle's explanatory perface and a long and tedious introduction to his meditations claim the invention of a new kind of exercise, which Boyle calls "Meleteticks":
There is scarce any thing, that may not prove the subject of an occasional meditation; … natural propensity … unperceivably ingages us to pry into the several attributes and relations of the things we consider, to obtain the greater plenty of particulars, for the making up of the more full and compleat parallel betwixt the things whose resemblances we would set forth. By which means a man often comes to discover a multitude of particulars, even in obvious things, which … common beholders take no notice of.11
Boyle's meletetics is a distinctively "modern"—that is, eighteenth-century modern—version of meditation; its use of material meditative objects, its adaptation to the individual experiences of common men, its emphasis on the power of any individual to interpret adequately, its quiet allegiance to the methods and assumptions of empirical science, its assertion that great truths can be revealed through sense experience: these methods and attitudes and the assumptions that sponsor them seem more crucial to Swift's righteous ire than any particulars of style. Boyle's panegyric on modern writing and his ubiquitous progressivist assumptions might well have irritated or angered Swift, and certainly his confidence in human discovery and interpretative ability seem, when put beside Swift's beliefs, easy and radically optimistic. Here is a taste of Boyle's explanation of why he feels free to depart from classical decorum in language: rules-makers disagree with each other, he says, and
I see no great reason to confine my self to the magisterial dictates of either ancient or scholastick, writers. For, living in this age, and in this part of the world, where we are not like to have those for readers that died before we were born, I see not why one may not judge of decorum by the examples and practices of those authors of our own times and countries….12
Boyle's meletetics, widely influential and limitated, especially among dissenters, carry the every-man-hisown-priest idea to an extreme, and, like many other modern epistemologies and writings attacked by Swift, stressed the validity of individual experience as a means to eternal truth. Boyle and his followers democratized revelation to an incredible degree, turning the Book of Nature into a kind of cosmic book of associations with as many meanings as there are perceivers or even moods. That attitude was not likely to win Swift's approval. Swift does not mention Boyle in his letters (or at least in those that have survived) or elsewhere in his published works, except for a late marginal manuscript note in his copy of Burnet's History of his own Time in which he calls him a "a very silly writer."13 However great a scientist, Boyle was a mannered writer, pedestrian theologian, and sometimes flatulent reasoner, and he had other characteristics likely to infuriate someone of Swift's sensibilities.
He had, for example, made much of his religious conversion at the age of fourteen, and he had repeatedly refused to take holy orders on the grounds that he had not had an inner call. Thus, although a faithful Anglican, Boyle in his personal life as well as in his writing acts more like Swift's dissenting contemporaries than like Swift the High Churchman, and Boyle's lifelong attempts to harmonize religion with empirical science, his fondness for scientific jargon, his scarcely disguised self-praise in The Christian Virtuoso, and his founding of the Boyle lectures on physico-theological subjects (Bentley was the first lecturer) all represent commitments that Swift regarded as at best misguided, at worst downright perverse.
We need not wonder, then, why Swift would feel free to attack "so great and pious a man as Mr. Boyle" (it is Sheridan's phrase) or whether his Broomstick hoax had any force of philosophical belief behind it.14 In fact, the thrust of Swift's hoax aims far more broadly than at the single figure of Boyle. Rather than stylistic parody in the usual sense, A Meditation upon a Broomstick is generic or class parody—that is, parody of a kind of writing and the assumptions it is based on, and crucial to its working power is the recognition of the philosophical assumptions that underlie it rather than simple identification of the writer. In A Tale of a Tub Swift hints at his characteristic procedure:
Some of those Passages in this Discourse, which appear most liable to Objection are what they call Parodies, where the Author personates the Style and Manner of other Writers, whom he has a mind to expose. I shall produce one Instance, it is in the 51st page. Dryden, L'Estrange, and some others I shall not name, are here levelled at, who having spent their Lives in Faction, and Apostacies, and all manner of Vice, pretended to be Sufferers for Loyalty and Religion. So Dryden tells us in one of his Prefaces of his Merits and Suffering, thanks God that he possesses his Soul in Patience: In other Places he talks at the same Rate, and L'Estrange often uses the like Style, and I believe the Reader may find more Persons to give that Passage an Application.15
Personating more than one writer at a time is at least as difficult as imitating the individual traits of a single writer, and this kind of class parody—personating writers who share a disagreeable trait of some sort—is rampant in Swift. This is one reason why parody in Swift is so hard to pin down and why so many critics, in despair of being precise, have turned to denial of parody instead. I agree with Edward W. Rosenheim's definition of satire as an attack upon "discernible historic particulars,"16 but that definition is easy to pervert in studying Swift, for the particular may be a group of writers or a class of thinkers or a category of believers just as easily as an individual. To insist that Swift aims at a single writer in his personations is not only to deprive his prose of much of the larger force that he demonstrably exerts but also to make him more of a lampoonist than thinker. Artist and marksman that he was, Swift could hit several antagonists and their foibles with a single shot, and we need not blame him for our own "either/or" instances, which, if I am right about Swift's Broomstick, Swift refused to honor even when it would have been easiest. Swift can, of course, be very particular when he wants to be, and there are times when he singles out a particular knave or fool instead of providing a family portrait. What is surprising is how seldom this occurs as a matter of style, for even in many particularized passages the focus is still on generic or class parody; when, for example, Swift inserts in Gulliver's Travels almost verbatim passages in seaman's jargon from Sturmy's Mariner's Magazine or when his scientific language is taken directly from the Transactions of the Royal Society, his parodic object is the broad and mindless use of these jargons, not Sturmy or the Transactions as such.
What I am saying does not mean, of course, that Swift does not invite us to find individuals within the family portraits he concentrates on, and, just as in Meditation upon a Broomstick he allows us to think of Boyle while attacking what Boyle stands for, so in many other passages he invites us to think of particular authors that exemplify the qualities embodied in his generic parody. The Tale of a Tub passage that I have alluded to, for example, names Dryden and L'Estrange for us and then suggests that we ourselves can find additional examples: "I believe the Reader may find more Persons to give that Passage an Application." Sometimes he gives names that exemplify, and sometimes he provides other clues. We have, I think, hardly begun to find the authors that, in his words, "he has a mind to expose," because we have looked too exclusively for stylistic parody and paid too little attention to other telltale details that can help to identify targets that are not to be identified stylistically.
Gulliver's Travels has generally resisted efforts to consider it parodic, and some Swift critics lurch toward apoplexy when the very idea of parody is broached within reaching distance of Gulliver's Travels.17 And yet Swift's consciousness of contemporary writing is nearly as apparent there as in A Tale of a Tub, and if passages that specifically echo another writer—such as the plagiarized passage from Sturmy's Mariner's Magazine—are rare, a large awareness of contemporary writing habits and the prevailing tastes of readers is visible at nearly every turn. Swift's awareness of contemporary travel writers—William Dampier, for example—has been often remarked, and much of the fun in the book's first appearance had to do with its solemn title page: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, it advertised, promising something quite other than what is delivered. Swift, in one of his letters, has something of a lark in imagining literal-minded readers who are gulled by such an expectation: he speaks of an Irish bishop who, after reading Gulliver's Travels, concluded that it was "full of improbable lies, and for his part, he hardly believed a word of it."18
But quite beyond its evocation of travel literature, Gulliver's Travels engages a whole tradition of fiction that was then in the process of developing, and Swift saw that this new kind of writing was beginning to codify a "modern," significantly new way of perceiving the world. Contemporary narratives of personal experience—scandalous memoirs and chronicles of personal and public political intrigue, as well as books that charted personal travel to far-off places or new experiences—were increasingly sought by a public that wanted material, intellectual, and psychological satisfaction in the conquest of space and the accrual of experience. Because of its new popularity, this subjective writing, whether genuine or fictional, seems to offer a personal yet universal key to reality and, like Boyle's Meditations, can only deliver on its promise by exaggerated and distorted emblematicism and by verbal sleight-of-hand. The assumptions, values, and forms that seem to be implicitly attacked in Gulliver's Travels would be easy enough to defend on their own terms, and in fact in our time most of us find it easier to understand them than we do Swift's objections; but the Travels offers us persuasive evidence that Swift perceived the brave new literary world of the 1720s much as Pope did, with the significant difference that Swift merges its personalities and consciousnesses into composite figures who anonymously participate in the creation of a single work that expressed their values and outlook, rather than being named and even individuated by their antagonist.19 Even in their monotonous sameness, though, some identifiable characteristics emerge, and in the choral voice one can pick out a few distinctive, personalized tones that remind us of a voice insistent on being subjective, authoritative, and modern.
Because Swift's parody works through an accretion and absorption of particulars, it is difficult to illustrate his method without a detailed consideration of the text and its contexts, but here I will be only suggestive through brief attention to one episode and its surrounding circumstances. The suggestive place I want to examine may at first seem a bit unlikely—Lemuel Gulliver's pockets as he empties them for his interrogation in Lilliput. Here is an inventory of what turns up concealed on Gulliver's person:
a set of eating utensils
a set of pistols
a pouch of gunpowder and another pouch of bullets silver and copper money and several pieces of gold
a pair of spectacles
a pocket perspective and "several other little Conveniences."
To appreciate the full effect of this pocketful, we have to remember that Gulliver is supposed to have swum ashore—in dangerous stormy waves—with his pockets jammed like that, and he is also wearing a full set of clothes, a hat, and a large sword.
Because this information is not all presented at once, one might read the Travels several times and not notice Gulliver's rich and varied cargo. Gulliver, being Gulliver, does not tell us that his swimming was impeded by his load, nor does he tell us why he hung onto the material things that connect him to his past when, buffeted by waves that threaten to scuttle him, it would have seemed sensible to discharge himself of some of his burdens. The things are, to be sure, useful to Swift in initiating Gulliver's dialogue with the Lilliputians, but they are not necessary, as subsequent voyages show. Swift pretty clearly is having some fun at Gulliver's expense in making him such a dull-witted freighter, and his point seems crucially connected, on the one hand, to a contemporary joke, and, on the other, to Swift's perceptions about first-person narrative and the mind-numbing absurdities it sometimes offered to readers of contemporary narrative.
The joke was seven years old in 1726. It had involved a slip of Defoe's pen in Robinson Crusoe—a slip that, when corrected, still exposed a lapse in memory or lack of factual knowledge. When Defoe has Crusoe swim to the shipwreck at one point, he allows him to strip off his clothes to make the journey easier, but a little later we see Crusoe on shipboard stuffing his pockets with biscuits. Defoe later explains that Crusoe had left on his seaman's britches, but as a contemporary, Charles Gildon, pointed out, Defoe didn't thus improve his marks as a purveyor of information about seamen, for seaman's britches usually do not have pockets, and even when they do, the pockets are tiny ones, much too small for biscuits: Defoe's explanation had only pinpointed and elaborated his ignorance. For Gildon, Defoe here makes Crusoe perform unlikely, even absurd actions, and his attack is on the false realism in Defoe, just as in Gulliver's Travels the thrust is to demonstrate what the realism and pseudofactuality of contemporary travel accounts and fictional narratives come to at last.20 Gildon's joke on Defoe was, by the way, well enough known and remembered in 1725—six years after Crusoe and a year before Gulliver—that the London Journal can speak of the pocket episode as "a most notorious Blunder," which had given "Abundances of Pleasure [to] many of his Readers."21
Gulliver's pockets, then, work something like this: they remind us of Defoe's mistake and how authors who try to pass off genuine memoirs often are tripped by simple facts. The pockets also remind us of larger points quite beyond the comical allusion—that first-person narrators, in their haste to make a point and glorify themselves, are hopelessly inaccurate, obtuse, and pretentious; that long lists and particular details do not necessarily add up to some larger truth, and that attempts to read the world and its purpose through the recording of sense impressions and the imparting of symbolic qualities to things and events (as done in Robinson Crusoe and in the emblematic tradition represented by meletetic meditators like Robert Boyle) is finally an arrogant, self-serving, even solipsistic way of regarding the world. Robinson Crusoe comes up for examination in Gulliver's Travels quite often various ways: in the opening paragraph in which the particulars of Defoe's life (his career as a hosier, his imprisonment as a debtor, his prudent marriage to a woman with a large dowry) are alluded to; in the preparatory events that preface each voyage proper; in the vague motivation for Gulliver's decisions to go repeatedly to sea because of "rambling Thoughts" and an unaccountable sense of destiny; in the habitual phrases that fall from Gulliver's lips and link him repeatedly but not constantly to the consciousness of Crusoe; in the ending in which Swift provides a sharp contrast to Crusoe's homecoming.22 Defoe, exploring what man can do to achieve salvation and deliverance within a providential pattern, has Crusoe readjust to the company of human beings and society generally with relative ease, giving no hint that lack of conversation, human companionship, sexual relationship, and exile from the familiar for more than a quarter century offer any obtrusive problems in readjustment, and Crusoe returns to find himself remembered, beloved, and provided for by partners and well-wishers who have preserved and improved his property and investments so that he is now a rich plantation owner, soon to be a happy new husband and father. Alexander Selkirk, often said to be the prototype of Crusoe and in any case an island castaway who lived in isolation only a fraction of Crusoe's tenure, found postvoyage life far otherwise, returning to his home a silent misanthrope who avoided all company, living altogether by himself, some say in a cave he himself dug as an emblem of his psychological space. Swift's portrait of Gulliver neighing quietly to himself in his stable, unable to stand the company of his wife and children, his nose stopped with lavender, tobacco, and rue so that he cannot smell human smells, stands in sharp relief to Crusoe's homecoming and tacitly reminds us realistically of historical figures like Selkirk and of civilization and its discontents.
The example of the allusive pockets suggests that Gulliver's Travels is, among many other impressive things, an accreting generic or class parody not only of travel narratives per se but also of a larger developing class of first-person fictional narratives that make extraordinary claims for the importance of the contemporary, the knowableness through personal experience of large cosmic patterns, the significance of the individual, and the imperialistic possibilities of the human mind—a class parody, in short, of what we now see as the novel and the assumptions that enable it.
Indulge me in a preposterous claim.A Tale of a Tub is also, among other things, a parody of the emerging novel. But how can there be a parody of something that does not yet exist? you may well ask, and I admit that I do not want to be taken altogether literally. Still, I am serious about the slight dislocative shock that such an unlikely assertion may provide, and I want to make three quick points about it: one historical, one having to do with Swift's powers of cultural analysis, and one relating back to things I have implied about Swift's tendency to collapse and merge parodic targets, accreting a style and structure that is identifiable as generic or class parody.
First the historical point. Attempts to describe the beginnings of the novel as we know it almost invariably land on a cultural moment and a specific work so that the publication of a particular novel becomes the crucial event; in this view a specific "father" of the novel is usually identified, and a moment of birth can thus be found for the genre, be it 1719, or 1740, or 1749, or whatever—the choice depending ultimately on how one defines the novel and on what sorts of fiction one excludes from the definition. This preoccupation with "firsts" is understandable, given the way an opposite school of literary historians is prone to push origins back, as it were, ab ovo, and ultimately end up with Heliodorus or Homer or Ham as the first modern novelist. And the attraction of biological and organic metaphors is certainly appealing to a humanist tradition that wishes to think of literature as an art form to be privileged above mere material existence. I would, however, hate to have to defend a notion of genre that included in it the necessity of firsts, for it seems quite clear that most genres grow out of the shifting and rearranging of conventions, usually in response to some major cultural change, often involving a technological breakthrough that influences the possibilities of existing art without leading immediately to a full-grown, totally defined form that exemplifies and exhausts possibility. I would certainly agree that the modern English novel as we know it comes to exist sometime around the beginning of the eighteenth century, and I would argue that the exploding amount of narrative fiction then, together with distinctive and definable changes in the nature of extended narrative, mean that we can specify the emergence of a genre even if we cannot pin it down to a particular Friday afternoon. But the context of ferment is somewhat broader, even if it does not stretch back to classical times. And I think we need to consider more fully the fiction written in England in the later years of the seventeenth century, which, if not actually describable as novelistic, points clearly to what is going to happen when the talents of particular writers become more focused on the emerging cultural and technological possibilities. Here, for example, is the kind of self-conscious narrative writing one finds in an extraordinary work of 1691, John Dunton's A Voyage Round the World, or The Life and Travels of Don Kainophilus:
Should I tell you, as the virtuosi do, that I was shaped at first like a Todpole, and that I remember very well, when my Tail Rambled off, and a pair of little Legs sprung out in the Room on't: Nay, shou'd I protest I pulled out my Note-book, and slapdashed it down the very minute after it happen'd,—let me see,—so many Days, Hours, and Seconds after Conception, yet this Infidel World wou'd hardly believe me….23
Dunton has been suggested as a "source" for A Tale of a Tub, and many passages from his work—in the Voyage and elsewhere—could easily be cited to bloster a claim that Dunton is one of the hacks Swift has in mind as a parodic model for the tubbean author.24 Dunton's life and works could in fact stand for much of what is under attack, in religion as well as in learning in A Tale of a Tub, for Dunton's publishing ventures, religious attitudes and experiences, and his rather volatile personal life make for racy reading that is in many ways symptomatic of the contemporary culture Swift is describing. We are likely to hear more in coming years of Dunton's place in the history of the novel, a place that is far more important than has been recognized.25 But my point here is that Dunton is one of several writers one might cite—another is Francis Kirkman—to show that novelistic tendencies were already highly developed by 1694 when Swift began work on the Tale, even if no full-blown novel of artistic consequence yet existed.
Clearly, Swift saw the handwriting on the wall, a handwriting leading to a new world of print. A Tale of a Tub emphasizes the now, the subjective, the rambling recording of the present moment of an individual consciousness, digressiveness from the basic narrative movement, uncertainty of direction, and the portentousness of every word within a framework of fragmentation, lost passages, metaphors run wild, and syntactic madness; what Swift does with these emphases is to provide almost a catalogue of devices appropriate to the attitudes and values inherent in a new conception of writing and artistry then taking shape. Ultimately, it is too much to say that Swift's performance in A Tale of a Tub amounts to a parody of the novel, but his parodie representation of modern writing suggests how the wind was blowing, and he isolates a number of features that go on to find their proper home in the new narrative form then in the process of emerging. Swift isolates a number of features that became crucial in the new fiction: narrative interests merging with discursive ones only to be interrupted by the vagaries of individual consciousness; a preoccupation with subjectivity for its own sake; a concentration upon an individual of negligible social importance and an elevation of that individual's claims to significance; an almost boundless faith in the potential of particulars to lead to grand patterns of divine or natural order, empiricism vastly extended. In isolating such features, Swift provides an acute cultural analysis of forces deeply at work in English culture, and if he does not exactly prophesy some of the central features in the writing of Defoe, Richardson, and Sterne, he shows himself already aware of the inevitability that the culture's structure will find its appropriate form at the same time that he distills the implications of what is emerging as modernity by giving it a parodic form even before it has fully defined its own paradigm.
Swift's style in A Tale of a Tub, although it bears features of the style of Dunton and Dryden, Roger L'Estrange and Aphra Behn, Wotton, and Bentley and of perhaps scores of other contemporaries, is finally not that of any one hack but instead that of Everyhack. A knowledge of the particulars of writings relevant to the context of the Tale can only enhance our appreciation of what Swift does there, not because we are likely to find any one writer or work toward which Swift directs all of his satiric anger but because he collapses them into a chorus made up of individual voices barely distinguishable from one another and, in any case, contributory to what the Augustans soon heard as a universal hum. From hymn to hum, that is the way the Augustans perceived the breakdown of ritual and tradition and the separation from orality, as traditional values and ideas of order slipped into those of novelty. If the novel goes on to provide a different and less gloomy perspective, the vision of Swift is still a perceptive and prophetic one in its articulation of the emerging world's directions and cultural forms.
Like A Tale of A Tub, Gulliver's Travels is a vast many things generically, and the novel is only one of the forms that enables Swift's satiric art. Travel books, philosophical voyages, scientific translations, beast fables, children's fantasies, and a host of other formal and informal "kinds" play their part in Swift's act of imagination, and some of them, like the emerging novel, play a prominent role for readers in their ability to receive and perceive the text. Unlike Don Quixote, Gulliver's Travels does not contain both type and antitype, both paradigm and parody. But its negative representation of what was and what was to be involves Swift's shrewd (if ultimately doomed) vision of where western thought and western art would go in his own time, and in its response to the directions and assumptions of first-person, fictional narrative, Gulliver's Travels is a kind of testimony to a new tradition about to be invented, a form almost formed, a genre nearly generated, as well as a credo, call to arms, a solvent against solipsism. In a way it transcends its form, its credo, and its values, but it realizes those things too, against a new tradition rigorously engaged if only partly understood.
1 In The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis et al. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1939-68), 9:41. Henceforth referred to as Prose Works.
2 George P. Mayhew, "Jonathan Swift's Hoax of 1722 upon Ebenezor Elliston," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 44 (1962): 366.
3 "The last Farewell of Ebenezor Ellison to this Transitory World," reprinted as an appendix in Prose Works, 9:366.
4 Most such "confessions" are very much alike, and the conventional wisdom is that someone, often the prison ordinary but sometimes a bookseller's hack, ghostwrote wholesale for the condemned prisoners. Collections of these last words were very popular early in the century; see, for example, The Wonders of Free Grace: or, a compleat history of all the remarkable penitents that have been executed at Tyburn, and elsewhere … (London, 1690). Elliston's last words are unusually rambling and oral, and it may be that we have here an attempt to transcribe something like what he actually said of himself.
5 See Herbert Davis's Introduction to vol. 1 of Prose Works, pp. xxxiii-xxxiv.
6Prose Works, 1:239-240.
7 "Reflection 1," in Occasional Reflections upon Several Subjects (1665), reprinted in Works (London: 1772), 2: 359-60.
8 In the Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, (London: Benjamin Tooke, 1711), p. 231, Swift said his meditation was "According to the Style and Manner of the Honourable Robert Boyl's Meditations."
9Husbandry Spiritualized: or, The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things (London: Robert Boulter, 1669), pp. 254-55.
10 The best description of the meditative tradition is still that of Louis Martz, The Poetry of Meditation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954).
11 "A Discourse Touching Occasional Meditations," in Occasional Reflections, reprinted in 1772 Works, 2:343.
12 "An Introductory Preface," in Occasional Reflections, reprinted in 1772 Works, 2:329.
13 See Prose Works, 5:271.
14 See Thomas Sheridan, Life of Swift (London, 1784), p. 42.
15 "Apology," in A Tale of a Tub, ed. A. C. Guthkelch and D. Nichol Smith, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 7.
16 See Swift and the Satirist's Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), p. 31.
17 A happy exception is C. J. Rawson. See Gulliver and the Gentle Reader (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973).
18 Swift to Pope, 27 November 1726, in Correspondence, ed. Harold Williams (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963) 3:189.
19 Carole Fabricant, Swift's Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), esp. pp. 3-4, usefully reminds us that Swift's and Pope's positions need often to be distinguished from one another, but on this issue they seem to have seen eye to eye. For a good discussion of Swift's distrust of overreading natural phenomena, see Martin Price, Swift's Rhetorical Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), pp. 89-90.
20 Gildon's attack, published as The life and strange surprising adventures of Mr. D—DeF—, of London Hosier … With remarks serious and comical upon the life of Crusoe, had two editions in 1719 and another in 1724.
21London Journal, 4 September 1725, p. 1.
22 John Robert Moore long ago pointed out that the opening paragraph of Gulliver's Travels reviewed satirically the life and career of DeFoe ("A DeFoe Allusion in Gulliver's Travels," Notes and Queries 178 (1940): 79-80. The whole issue of Defoe's relationship to Swift needs to be studied afresh, John Ross's study of the subject now being sadly outdated.
23A Voyage Round the World, 3 vols. (London, 1691), 1:30.
24 See J. M. Stedmond, "Another Possible Analogue for Swift's Tale of a Tub," Modern Language Notes 72 (1957): 13-18. Stedmond, among others, has also studied Sterne's debt to Dunton, but the whole subject needs much more detailed analysis.
25 I have discussed some aspects of Dunton's importance in "The Insistent I," Novel 13 (1979): 19-37. See also Stephen Parks, John Dunton and the English Book Trade (New York: Garland, 1976) and Robert Adams Day, "Richard Bentley and John Dunton: Brothers under the Skin," Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, ed. O M Brack, Jr. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986) 16:125-38.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6713
SOURCE: "The Myth of Narcissus in Swift's Travels," in Reader Entrapment in Eighteenth-Century Literature, edited by Carl R. Kropf, AMS Press, 1992, pp. 89-108.
[In the following essay, Fox studies Swift's employment of the masturbation motif, (i.e. Gulliver's apprenticeship to "my good Master Bates") as a metaphor for excessive, myopic self-involvement, and as a retelling of the myth of Narcissus.]
This essay begins with a question posed by the late Frank Brady in 1978 and (more recently) by William Kinsley in 1982. What do we make of Gulliver's apprenticeship, at the opening of the Travels, to "my good Master Bates"? Brady noted that it "is easy to find" such "jokes (errors? misstatements?) in Gulliver; what is difficult … is to determine whether they are (1) accidental, (2) incidental (local, restricted), or (3) significant?"1
Let us apply Brady's criteria to the "Master Bates" construct, developed in the opening three paragraphs of the work: in the first readers learn of Gulliver's apprenticeship to "Mr. James Bates" and later "Mr. Bates" who becomes, in the second paragraph, "my good Master Mr. Bates" or "Mr. Bates, my Master" and, in the third, simply "my good Master Bates."2 To use Brady's first criterion, is this chain of references merely "accidental"? Pointing to Swift's use of "anticipatory variations" here and of "repetition and overspecification with a vengeance," Kinsley finds these elements alone convincing proof that the pun is deliberate,3 and his contention is sound, though at least one objection remains: was the word "masturbation" even current in Swift's day? Milton Voigt, assessing Phyllis Greenacre's attempt to make the pun mean something, argues that it was not; and on the basis of the OED, which cites the earliest written use of the word in 1766, he is right. Brady tried to remove this objection by locating an earlier occurrence of the word, in Florio's Montaigne (1603).4 But there were also some more current uses that (1) suggest the pun is not "accidental" and (2) supply, at the very least, an "incidental" context for the joke.
In A Modest Defence of Publick Stews (1724), published two years before the Travels, Bernard Mandeville relates that one of the "Ways by which lewd young Men destroy their natural Vigour, and render themselves impotent" is by "Manufriction, alias Masturbation." Dr. Mandeville then lists a host of ailments arising from this "lewd Trick" and argues that to "prevent young Men from Laying violent Hands upon themselves, we must have recourse to the Publick Stews."5 In advocating the brothel as a cure for those he calls the youthful "Onanites," Mandeville was not alone. In The Oeconomy of Love (1736), another doctor, John Armstrong, counsels young men to "hie / To Bagnio lewd or Tavern, nightly where / Venereal Rites are done" rather than practice that "ungenerous, selfish, solitary Joy."6 And earlier in the century, in his Treatise of Venereal Disease (1709), Dr. John Marten offers vivid case histories which seemingly support such claims. Here, we learn about "a very comely Gentleman … whose Case was lost Erection, by Masturbation in his Youth." Equally unfortunate, Marten adds, was a young student who, "deceiv'd by others, used daily Masturbation, as he [later said] lamenting and sorry, and thereby had contracted so great a weakness of his Seminal Vessels and Testicles, that although he lived afterwards continently, yet he was troubled with a Gonorrhea … and whereas he was before of a lively colour and strong, afterwards he grew pale, lean, weak, &c."7 Along with the pre-Gulliver uses of the word "masturbation," the context of such remarks sheds light on the Travels in 1726. That context is the pervasive early eighteenth-century anti-masturbatory craze sparked, at least in part, by a pamphlet titled ONANIA; OR, THE Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, AND ALL its Frightful Consequences, in both SEXES, Considered, WITH Spiritual and Physical Advice to those, who have already injur'd themselves by this Abominable Practice (London, c. 1709-1710).
Early in this pamphlet, the author confesses that to "expose a Sin so displeasing to God, so detrimental to the Publick, and so injurious to our selves, requires no Flights of Wit."8 And the work that ensues—an often tedious compendium of moral and pseudo-medical advice (though not without a certain prurient appeal)—indicates that he is largely correct. In elucidating the frightful consequences of the "SIN OF SELF-POLLUTION" (among them, sterility, blindness, sloth, madness, gonorrhea, death, "Lying," "Forswearing," and even "Murder"), ONANIA raised masturbation to the status of a "collosal bogey."9 In a 1724 edition of the work, which advertises itself as "The Tenth EDITION Above Fifteen Thousand of the former Editions … Sold," we discover that the secret sin has reached contagious proportions in Britain. Indeed, it "has now become almost as frequent amongst Girls, as Masturbation is amongst Boys." It is especially prevalent in the schools, where "licentious Masturbators" initiate unsuspecting youths into "that cursed School-Wickedness of Masturbation."10 P.-G. Boucé notes that ONANIA enjoyed an "amazing success." Judging from the number of editions it ran through and the host of imitations it sparked, ONANIA (as Lawrence Stone adds) "clearly struck some hidden area of anxiety in early eighteenth-century Europe."11 In the mid-1720s alone, for example, if the reader did not see ONANIA directly or, say, Mandeville's Publick Stews, he could consult Eronania: On the Misusing of the Marriage-Bed by Er and Onan (London, 1724). He could then move on, in the same year, to The Crime of Onan (together with that of his brother Er, punished with sudden death): Or, the hainous Vice of Self defilement (London, 1724). Four years later, he could read Joseph Cam's A Practical Treatise on the Consequences of Venereal Disease (London, 1728), the first part considering that dreaded specter, "onanism."
When Gulliver, in 1726, is apprenticed to "my good Master Bates" there are some historical reasons, therefore, for assuming that Swift's chain of references is far from "accidental." But is it only "incidental," that is, in Brady's terms, a "local" or a "restricted" joke? If so, we could end this essay here and simply say that, by introducing this pun—particularly within a larger discussion of Gulliver's schooling—Swift is playfully alluding to a context familiar to his readers.
Another Scriblerian work furnishes additional substance for investigation. In a book Swift contributed to—the Memoirs of Scriblerus—Martinus uses his "sagacity in discovering the distempers of the Mind" to solve the case of a young nobleman, who has cut himself off from others and "converses" with almost "none but himself." Martinus concludes that the young man must be "desperately in love"; and an interview with an aunt confirms the object of this "amorous inclination":
Whom does he generally talk of? Himself, quoth the Aunt. Whose wit and breeding does he most commend? His own, quoth the Aunt…. Whom is he ogling yonder? Himself in his looking-glass.… Have you observ'd him to use Familiarities with any body? "With none but himself: he often embraces himself with folded arms, he claps his hand often upon his hip, nay sometimes thrusts it into—his breast."
The prognosis is poor. If the young man's self-love is not cured, we are told, he will be "condemn'd eternally to himself" and perhaps "run to the next pond to get rid of himself, the Fate of most violent Self-lovers."12
Important here is a cluster of associations linking masturbation to the "distemper" (i.e. madness) of self-love and to the greatest self-lover of them all. The young man's rejection of others, his fascination and "Familiarities" with his own body, his attempts to embrace himself, the closing evocation of the destructive pond—all suggest the story of Narcissus. Given this Scriblerian context, it is perhaps not surprising that a book which begins with its hero apprenticed to "Master Bates" ends with him "condemn'd eternally to himself and with a vision that also evokes the tale of Narcissus: "When I happened to behold the Reflection of my own Form in a Lake or Fountain," Gulliver tells us near the end of his tale, "I turned away my Face in Horror and detestation of my self" (4.10). It is within this larger pattern, suggestive of Gulliver's Narcissistic movement from self-love to self-hatred, that the opening play on "Master Bates" becomes—in Brady's third criterion—"significant."
"Narcissism" in Swift's day did not necessarily mean what it means to us—the word itself was probably coined by a German in 1899.13 It instead meant myth, specifically Ovidian myth,14 and the traditional interpretations of the mythographers. He is known for the "hard pride" (dura superbia) with which he scorns the love of others.15 He especially dislikes the company of women.16 Despising all others in comparison with himself, he will not let others love him and tells all who attempt to do so, "embrace me not."17 He who will not let others love him is doomed to a hopeless love himself; he gazes at the deceptive reflection, mistakes a shadow (umbra) for a substance, and blindly falls in love with an idealized vision of himself, a nothingness created by his own imagination: "quod petis, est nusquam."18 As he attempts to grasp the "adored image," it "ever elude[s] his Embraces." Transported "by selfe-love" and wasting away "with that madnesse," he spends the remainder of his days isolated from the world and attended by a few flatterers who reaffirm his delusion.19 These traits (among others) were attributed to Narcissus by Ovid's commentators from the late sixteenth through the early eighteenth century. Many of the same characteristics appear, as well, in the Scriblerians' case of the young nobleman in the Memoirs—and in Swift's portrayal of Lemuel Gulliver.
We know from "Baucis and Philemon" or "The Fable of Midas" that Swift enjoyed playing with Ovidian types and themes.20 The similarities between Gulliver and the Narcissus of the Ovidian tradition, and the evocation of the same myth in Book IV of the Travels, point to some larger transformations of the tale. Three Ovidian themes in particular, which link Gulliver to the Narcissus figure, shed light on his opening apprenticeship to 'Master Bates" and his closing rejection of self and species.
The first theme suggests itself in Gulliver's response to those who love him and his own experience with his beloved Houyhnhnms. This theme, the "frustrated love," had been seen for centuries as a central motif of the Narcissus tale.21 The story in Ovid is not simply the story of Narcissus, but also of Echo and the others who tried to love him. At a key moment in Ovid's account, Echo sees Narcissus and, "inflamed with love," races up to "throw her arms around" him. He immediately "flees her approach," yelling "Hands off! embrace me not!" (Metam., Bk. 3, line 390). In Book IV of the Travels, the same scene is comically re-enacted in Gulliver's encounter with the Yahoo woman who, "inflamed by Desire," came "running with all Speed" up to him and—his account continues—"embraced me after a most fulsome Manner; I roared as loud as I could … whereupon she quitted her Grasp, with the utmost Reluctancy, and leaped upon the opposite Bank, where she stood gazing and howling" (4.8).
This version of the "frustrated love"—with Gulliver playing Narcissus to a Yahoo Echo—is picked up later in a series of embrace scenes that are not as comic. When Gulliver arrives home, he tells us that "my Wife took me in her Arms, and kissed me; at which, having not been used to the Touch of that odious Animal for so many Years, I fell in a Swoon for almost an Hour" (4.11). As in his encounter with the Yahoo Echo, Gulliver's rejection here is explicitly sexual. During his association with "Master Bates," Gulliver had been advised "to alter my Condition" by marrying (1.1). Now, finally returning home, he laments that "by copulating with one of the Yahoo-Species, I had become a parent of more; it struck me with the utmost Shame, Confusion, and Horror" (4.11). He does not let this happen in the future and continues to scorn his wife's embraces right up to the time he writes the book; for Gulliver assures us that, in the five years he's been home, he has let no one in his family even "take me by the Hand" (4.11). Gulliver, in other words, commits himself at the end of the work to the Narcissistic isolation evoked at the opening, in his situation with "my good Master Bates." In Ovid's story, Narcissus shows his "hard pride" in rejecting not only Echo, but everyone else who attempts to love him. This theme also appears in another embrace scene in Book IV, this one with Pedro de Mendez, who has treated Gulliver with great humanity. "He took kind Leave of me," Gulliver comments, "and embraced me at parting; which I bore as well as I could" (4.11). In his proud rejection of Pedro de Mendez no less than of his wife, Gulliver's posture is summed up by the boy's words in the tale: "Hands off! embrace me not!"
The "frustrated love" works both ways. As Ovid and his commentators remind us, he who will not let others love him is doomed to a hopeless love himself, and to be tortured by the "unattainability of an idealized self-image."22 That image in the Travels is embodied in Gulliver's "Love and Veneration" (4.7) for the Houyhnhnms, who reject him just as he rejects the others.
Along with the "frustrated love," two other Ovidian motifs are pertinent here. The first is the "reflection" theme, seen in Narcissus's preoccupation with himself in the pond. In their adaptation of the myth in the Memoirs, the Scriblerians connect the "reflection" to the young man's masturbation and "Familiarities" with himself, to his absorption in the "looking-glass," and ultimately, to a larger movement from self-love to self-hatred.
All these elements are at work in the Travels, where Swift uses the same theme to suggest Gulliver's simultaneous fascination with, and rejection of, his own body—or, one-half of his being. Indeed, the opening play on "Master Bates" is only the first in a long series of references to Gulliver's "Familiarities" with himself. Early in Book I, for example, Gulliver reports (1.3) that when "some of the younger Officers" of the Lilliputian army pass under his tattered breeches, they look up not simply with "Laughter" but "Admiration." Elsewhere in the same book, he vividly describes relieving himself and then feels the need to apologize for it: "I would not have dwelt so long upon a Circumstance … if I had not thought it necessary to justify my Character in Point of Cleanliness to the World" (1.2). In a parallel passage in Book II, he tells us about relieving himself again and again asks the reader to "excuse me for dwelling on these and the like Particulars; which however insignificant they may appear to grovelling vulgar Minds, yet will certainly help a Philosopher enlarge his Thoughts and Imagination" (2.1). How this is so is unclear. What is clear is that Gulliver dwells "on these and the like Particulars" throughout the entire work. And the particulars he provides—his later defense, for example, of his own smell (2.5) or the "Shame" with which he views his sexual acts (4.11)—reveal a strange preoccupation with, and progressive hatred of, his own body. This same pattern suggests itself in the growing number of references to "mirrors," culminating in Gulliver's stark rejection of his human form in Book IV:
When I happened to behold the Reflection of my own Form in a Lake or Fountain, I turned away my Face in Horror and detestation of my self; and could better endure the Sight of a common Yahoo, than of my own Person (4.10).
In a passage that directly evokes and also modifies the Narcissus myth, Gulliver—here as elsewhere23—tells us he hates his "Reflection" in mirrors. A similar modification of the myth appears in the Fables of La Fontaine (1621-95), where in "The Man and His Reflection" a Narcissus appears who avoids mirrors:
Thinking himself one with whom none could compare,
A man supposed himself the handsomest of mankind
And found fault with every mirror anywhere,
So that in time he had become morally blind.
What could our Narcissus do but stay away,
In the kind of place in which he would be safe all day
From any mirror that might catch him unaware?24
The reason this Narcissus avoids mirrors is that they show him he looks like everybody else and detract from his idealized self image. Gulliver has similar motivations. Mirrors reflect the human form he has now rejected, a rejection arising, in part, from the Narcissistic fascination with himself adumbrated throughout and in the opening play on masturbation.
Mirrors also detract from Gulliver's idea of what he wants to become. What he wants to become is a rational horse. (As Brady quipped, "Gulliver was not unusual among eighteenth-century squires in preferring his horses to his family, but his reasons for doing so seem unique."25) Thus, in the same passage in Book IV, Gulliver immediately turns away from his human "Reflection" to focus on another image—the Houyhnhnms—on which he looks "with Delight" (4.10). When he first found himself "gazing" at that image "for some time" (4.1), he had wondered soon afterwards whether his "Brain was disturbed" and had "rubbed my Eyes often" to see if "I might be in a Dream" (4.2). But the "Truth" of this image—and the possibility of a purely rational life—had since "appeared so amiable" to him that he has "determined upon sacrificing everything to it" (4.7). This is the image evoked again at the end of the Travels, where we find Gulliver living "in great Amity" (4.11) with two "Stone-Horses": stallions to most people, but to Gulliver idols of his beloved Houyhnhnms. Gulliver's fixed obsession with this image and his vain attempt to embrace it point to another theme, "illusion," which figures prominently in the Narcissus story.
In Ovid, Narcissus ignorantly (inprudens) mistakes an illusion for a reality and worships an insubstantial image that nonetheless "appears" to him "like a statue" (Metam., Bk. 3, line 419). "What you seek is nowhere"—quod petis, est nusquam—the narrator laughs (Bk. 3, line 433). Because the illusion has no correspondence in reality, and cannot be attained, the boy is destroyed. Later interpreters link Narcissus's illusion to, among other things, the (a) folly of worshipping an image, to the (b) blindness that arises from pride, and—from the late sixteenth century onward—to a (c) self-pleasing delusion, a mental aberration created by his own imagination. The first two threads are suggested, for instance, in Ben Jonson's Cynthia's Revels: Or, The Fountain of Self-Love (1601), where Echo wishes that Narcissus had picked a "truer Mirror" in which to view his real self. "But self-love never yet could look on truth / But with blear'd beams" (i.ii). The third—taking Narcissus's error as a delusion—is prominent in La Fontaine's later Fable, where Narcissus avoids outward mirrors because they interfere with his private vision of himself.
All these strands appear in Gulliver's worship of the Houyhnhnms. At the end of the work, we find Gulliver attempting "to behold my Figure often in a Glass" in order "to Habituate my self by Time to tolerate the Sight of a human Creature" (4.12). But, like La Fontaine's Narcissus, Gulliver already has an image of himself, a private mirror, he likes better. This is the image he gazes at when he turns away from his human reflection in a lake, or when he enters the stable with his groom to view those two "Stone-Horses." This image pleases him because it allows him to deny that human form he has rejected, and to dream the dream of a purely rational life. Just as important, it enables him to "pretend to some Superiority" over the rest of the human race (4.12). That the Houyhnhnm ideal is a delusion is strongly suggested by the disparity between what Gulliver wants to become and what he is. Attempting to escape his body, he ends up enmeshed in it, enjoying the fumes of his groom while unable to tolerate the smell of his own family. Attempting to live a life of pure reason, he loses it altogether. The references to madness abound. In short, like the boy in the story, Gulliver is deluded by a hopeless love for an unattainable image—in his case, the Houyhnhnms, who become an idealized projection of his own pride.
That Gulliver writes the book to convert us to this same image suggests another interpretation of Narcissus's "illusion," taking it as a mental aberration of a specific type. In a popular emblem book reprinted as late as 1784,26 Andrea Alciati equates Narcissus with the proposer of "new doctrines," one who mistakes his own idea for truth (Figure 1). The image this Narcissus sees is an imaginary construct (phantasias) created by his own intellect, a construct he falls in love with and then attempts to impose on the rest of us.27 Like Alciati's Narcissus, Gulliver has found what he takes to be the truth. And being (so he often claims) a lover of truth, he writes the book with the stated intent of teaching us this truth, learned among the Houyhnhnms (4.12). Like the man in the emblem, however, this "truth" is a delusion. Indeed, in his blind love for his delusion and his attempt to get us to embrace it as truth, Gulliver is yet another version of Alciati's Narcissus—and of the "projector" who pervades Swift's works, but with one difference, of course: Gulliver's project is the grandest one of all, no less than the immediate reformation of the entire human race. Whenever someone proposes a new system, Swift tells us in the Tale of A Tub, "the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself."28 In Swift's projector Lemuel Gulliver, as in Alciati's Narcissus, the root of such proselytizing can be found in self-love.
This points to the larger eighteenth-century discussion of self-interest and also, perhaps, to another reason why Gulliver is apprenticed to "my good master Bates." As a Christian and a moralist, Swift inherited a tradition that regarded self-love as a "main cause of psychological distortion," of "prejudice, misperception, misunderstanding, and worse, delusion, in one's thinking about oneself and everything else."29 In the figure of Lemuel Gulliver, all of these are at work. As a satirist, Swift—like his favorite La Rochefoucauld or his contemporary, Mandeville—delighted in puncturing inflated claims to purely altruistic acts. As Frederick Keener points out in The Chain of Becoming, when Gulliver announces at the opening that he has fled "the corruption of fellow surgeons in London," he becomes one of a number of eighteenth-century heroes who "present themselves as extraordinarily selfless in motivation…. " But, Keener adds, "as quickly as these motives" are announced, the reader is set "thinking about the origins of such professions" (79).
Keener's insight can be extended, in Gulliver's case, to the act of writing itself. As we have seen, he consistently claims that he "strictly adhere[s] to Truth" (4.12). But the truth he adheres to is a Narcissistic delusion. Gulliver also says that he writes "for the noblest End" and that "my sole Intention was the PUBLICK GOOD" (4.12). This can be challenged, too. If Gulliver is so eager to share his truth, why does he wait so long to do it? Given the present mess in Gulliver's stable and the utter impossibility of becoming a rational horse, the reason is obvious: Gulliver has been unable to turn his own immediate world into a Houyhnhnm Utopia, or to embrace the ideal himself. In these terms, the book becomes a futile attempt to adjust the outside world to his own private vision.30 Modern psychologists would call this an exercise (among other things) in fantasy and wish-fulfillment. Augustinian Christians would call it the sin of similitude, evoked most memorably in Milton's allegory of Satan and the creation of Sin and Death. Like Satan—or Narcissus, for that matter—Gulliver is attempting here to replicate an image of himself. Thus, underlying a stated aim to serve the public is Gulliver's unstated desire to serve himself.
If, of course, Gulliver cannot embrace his idea in life, or alter the world to suit his fancy, he does have at least one outlet: to create another world that, while unattainable in life, can be found on the page, in language itself. A modern example of such an activity appears in the "villanelle" scene in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, where Stephen imagines an ideal woman. Because he cannot embrace his ideal, he writes about it, in a process that metaphorically becomes an act of masturbation.
Theorists like Roland Barthes and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have also sensed a connection between logos and eros, suggesting (in the latter's words) that a "good part of eroticism is on paper."31 To find writing imaged this way, we don't need to search for modern analogues, however. In Swift's Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, for example, the narrator coarsely describes the height ("Orgasmus") of the charismatics' rites, during which the spirit is said "to flag of a sudden" and the group is "forced to hasten to a Conclusion." Soon after this, the narrator himself abruptly ends the work with a sudden announcement—or, should we say, ejaculation: "the Post is just going, which forces me in great Haste to conclude." This conclusion is consistent with the rest of the work, which considers a process for "ejaculating the Soul"—a subject (the narrator boasts) "sparingly handled … by any Writer."32 Swift evokes here what Pope would call "necessary Writing." For "there is hardly any human Creature past Childhood," Pope tells us in The Art of Sinking (1728), who hasn't had "some Poetical Evacuation" or enjoyed the "Discharge of the peccant Humour, in exceeding perulent Metre."33 In these works, masturbation becomes a metaphor for writing that finds its sole basis in self. The same point suggests itself in Gulliver's apprenticeship to "Master Bates." Swift would certainly agree with Glanvill's assertion that "every man is naturally a Narcissus."34 But he would also argue the need for the writer to go beyond this natural condition, to reach out and embrace the larger orders around him. It is Gulliver's failure to do this, to have intercourse (in any sense of the word) with the world around him, that leads him, in isolation, to fall in love with an idealized image of himself and to write this book.
In his study, Literary Loneliness, John Sitter has perceptively noted the gradual isolation, in the mid-eighteenth century, of the writer from his world.35 Within this larger movement, it is perhaps significant that less than twenty years after the Travels Edward Young would invoke Narcissus as a positive ideal and compare virtue to
Swift seems to have foreseen this movement and in the Travels worked out some of its less charming implications. Indeed, as a type of Narcissus and a prototype of the Modern author, Lemuel Gulliver is apprenticed, from the very beginning of the work, to "my good Master Bates."
1 Frank Brady, "Vexations and Diversions: Three Problems in Gulliver's Travels, " Modern Philology 75 (1978), 350.
2The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert David (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1939-1968), XI, 19-20. All further references are to this edition.
3 William Kinsley, "Gentle Readings: Recent Work on Swift," Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15 (Summer, 1982), 443. Irvin Ehrenpreis has also pointed to Swift's veritable "addiction to word-games." See Dean Swift, Vol. III of Swift: The Man, His Works, and the Age (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983), 141.
4 See Milton Voigt, Swift and the Twentieth Century (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1964), 158; Phyllis Greenacre, Swift and Carroll: A Psychoanalytic Study of Two Lives (New York: International University Presses, 1955), 99-100, 115; and the OED, S.V. "masturbation." The OED, defining "masturbation" as "The practice of self-abuse," cites the earliest written occurrence of the word in Onanism: Or a Treatise upon the Disorders produced by Masturbation (1766), forty years after the publication of Gulliver in 1726. For the 1603 occurrence, see Brady, 350n.
5 [Bernard Mandeville], A Modest Defence of Publick Stews (London, 1724; reprint ed., Los Angeles: Augustan Reprint Society, 1973, No. 162), 30-31. The Defence also went through a second edition, in 1725.
6 John Armstrong, The Oeconomy of Love: A Poetical Essay (London, 1736), 8-10.
7 John Marten, A Treatise of all the Degrees and Symptoms of the Venereal Disease in both Sexes, 6th ed., corrected and enlarged (London, c. 1709), 398-99. I thank P.-G. Boucé for calling this to my attention. Information on this book, which managed to get Marten prosecuted, is available in David Foxon's Libertine Literature in England 1660-1745 (New Hyde Park, New York: University Books, 1965), 13.
8ONANIA; Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and All its Frightful Consequences (London, 1724; reprint ed., Boston, 1724), 3. The author takes his title from the story of Onan in Genesis (38: 8-10) and is perhaps the first to use the term, "onanism." However, as often pointed out, both the title and the term are based on a probable misreading of the biblical text.
9 See Edward H. Hare, "Masturbatory Insanity: The History of an Idea," The Journal of Mental Science, 108 (1962), 2.
10Onania, 1724, 16-17. For the same talk of "licentious Masturbators " and "that cursed School-Wickedness of Masturbation," also see the London, 1725 edition of ONANIA, 19-20. A 1756 edition of this work, owned by the Kinsey Institute, includes letters written by an "afflicted Onan" in "Dublin, Dec. 31, 1727" (24) who found ONANIA an inspiration; and from a similarly-troubled youth in "London, Dec. 31, 1729" who regrets his past involvement in what he calls "The Sin of Masturbation" (88). The letter from Ireland suggests ONANIA's presence there, as does the copy of the book in the personal library of a longterm Dublin associate of Swift's, John Putland, the stepson of Swift's friend and Dublin physician, Richard Helsham. (See item No. 1490 in Putland's manuscript list of his own library, Bibliotheca Putlandia, National Library of Ireland, MS 4186). Swift knew Putland well enough to loan him £1500; Putland also apparently ended up with several medical books owned by Swift and left to Helsham. See The Account Books of Jonathan Swift, eds. Paul V. Thompson and Dorothy Jay Thompson (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1984), cxxv, 310, 312, 313; and William LeFanu, A Catalogue of Books Belonging to Dr. Jonathan Swift (Cambridge: Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 1988), 2.
11 See P-G. Boucé, "Aspects of Sexual Tolerance and Intolerance in XVIIIth-Century England," British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 3 (1980), 176; and Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England: 1500-1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 514. For more information, also see Robert H. MacDonald, "The Frightful Consequences of Onanism: Notes on the History of a Delusion," Journal of the History of Ideas, 28 (1967), 423-31; R. P. Neuman, "Masturbation, Madness, and The Modern Concepts of Childhood and Adolescence," The Journal of Social History, 8 (1975), 1-27; J. H. Plumb, "The New World of Children in 18th-century England," Past and Present, 67 (1975), 64-93; Angus McLaren, Birth Control in Nineteenth-Century England (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1978), esp. 25-29; M. Foucault, History of Sexuality, trans. R. H. Hurley (London: Penguin, 1978), vol. I, esp. 27-29; Theodoré Tarczylo, Sexe et Liberté au Siècle des Lumières (Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 1983); G. S. Rousseau's review of this work in Eighteenth-Century Studies, 19 (Fall, 1985), 116-20; and H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., "The Disease of Masturbation: Values and the Concept of Disease," in Sickness and Health in America, eds. Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 13-21. Such works are starting to confirm Jean Hagstrum's suspicion that fears of "onanism" and the like "haunted the mind of eighteenth-century man no less than the Victorians" (Sex and Sensibility [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980], 224n.) There are several helpful collections of essays on the subject, including P.-G. Boucé's Sexuality In Eighteenth-Century Britain (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1982).
12 Jonathan Swift, et al., Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus, ed. Charles Kerby-Miller (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1950), 134-36.
13 Havelock Ellis, "The Conception of Narcissism," in Studies In The Psychology of Sex (New York: Random House, 1936), vol. I, 355-56. Though some similarities exist between eighteenth-century views of Narcissus and modern concepts of narcissism, I wish to differentiate the two, as much as possible. For an interesting exploration of Swift and "narcissism," in a modern sense of the term, see Thomas B. Gillmore, "Freud, Swift, and Narcissism: A Psychological Reading of 'Strephon and Chloe,'" in Contemporary Studies of Swift's Poetry, eds. John Irwin Fischer and Donald C. Mell (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1981), 159-68. On problems of applying modern, psychological terms to eighteenth-century texts, see Christopher Fox, "Defining Eighteenth-Century Psychology: Some Problems and Perspectives," in Psychology and Literature In the Eighteenth Century, ed. C. Fox (New York: AMS Studies In the Eighteenth Century, 1987), 1-22.
14 Though other classical accounts of Narcissus exist, the most influential appears in bk. 3 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, lines 339-510. All references are to Vol. I of F. J. Miller's translation (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1936).
15 See Ovid, Metam., bk. 3, line 354 and Natalis Comes, Mythologiae (Venice, 1567; reprint ed., New York: Garland Press, 1976), 285-86.
16 See Henry Reynolds MYTHOMYSTES … TO which is annexed the Tale of Narcissus briefly mythologized (London, 1632): "Narcissus is fained to eschew and flye the companie of all women" (107).
17 See Ovid, Metam., bk. 3, lines 390-91; Marlowe's Hero and Leander (First Sest. 75-76), where Leander is compared to Narcissus who "despising many / Died ere he could enjoy the love of any"; and Bacon's Wisedome of the Ancients (London, 1619): "Narcissus was exceeding faire … but wonderful proud and disdainfull; wherefore dispising [sic] all others in respect of himselfe, hee leads a solitary life" (11).
18 See Ovid, Metam., bk. 3, lines 417, 433-34; George Sandys, Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologized, and Represented in Figures, eds. K. K. Hulley and S. T. Vandersall (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1970), 159; and Ben Jonson, Cynthia's Revels: Or The Fountain of Self-Love, The Works, ed. W. Gifford (London, 1816), vol. II, 236.
19 See Richard Steele's Spectator No. 238 (Dec. 3, 1711) in The Spectator, ed. D. F. Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), vol. II, 427; Sandys, 160; and Bacon's Wisedome, where we learn that those afflicted with the disease of Narcissus "leade for the most parte" a "private and obscure life, attended on with a fewe followers, and those such as will … like an Eccho [sic] flatter them in all their sayings" (12-13).
20 See The Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams, 2nd. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), vol. I, 110, 156. Narcissus is not the only Ovidian tale evoked in the Travels. For instance, the captain who rescues Gulliver at the end of bk. II compares him to "Phaeton"—"although," Gulliver tells us, "I did not much admire the Conceit" (2.8). Why Gulliver didn't is perhaps suggested by the title alone of an earlier work, by Thomas Hall: Phaeton's folly, or, the downfal of pride: being a translation of the second book of Ovids Metamorphosis where is lively set forward the danger of pride and rashness (1655) (1655). (See Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry [New York: Norton, 1963], 337).
21 See Louise Vinge, The Narcissus Theme in Western European Literature, trans. R. Dewsnap and L. Grönlund (Lund: Gleerups, 1967), 15.
22 Frederick Goldin, The Mirror of Narcissus in The Courtly Love Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1967), 68.
23 When, for instance, the Queen of Brobdingnag "used to place" Gulliver "towards a Looking Glass, by which both our Persons appeared before me in full View," he disliked it intensely (2.3). He subsequently tells us that "I could never endure to look in a Glass after mine Eyes had been accustomed to such prodigious Objects; because the Comparison gave me so dispicable a Conceit of my self (2.8). Mirrors here accentuate the littleness of Gulliver's body and assault his pride. Later, he will reject that body altogether. For other comments on the "mirror" in Gulliver, see, especially, W. B. Carnochan, Lemuel Gulliver's Mirror For Man (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1968), 139-40, 175-81.
24The Fables of La Fontaine, trans. Marianne Moore (New York: Viking Press, 1952), 22-23. The Fables appear (as No. 502) in the sale catalogue of Swift's books. See A CATALOGUE OF BOOKS, [IN] THE LIBRARY of… Dr. SWIFT (Dublin, 1745), 13; reprinted in Harold Williams, Dean Swift's Library (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1932).
25 Brady, 360.
26 For a publication history of Alciati's work, and his influence—both of which are extensive—see Henry Green, Andrea Alciati and His Books of Emblems: A Biographical and Bibliographical Study (London: Trübner and Co., 1872); and Vinge, 177-78, 180, 204.
27 See Andrea Alciatus, Emblemata … CVM COMMENTARIIS… PER CLAVDIVM MINOEM (Antwerp, 1581), 261-70; and Figure I. Vinge (141) gives the following translation of Alciati's motto:
28A 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 David Nichol Smith, 2nd ed., rev. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 171.
29 Frederick M. Keener, The Chain of Becoming (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1983), 79. Keener's chapter on self-love (55-85) and his analysis of Gulliver (89-126) are both relevant to my discussion, as are considerations in A. O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977), 9-66; Anthony Levi, S. J., French Moralists: The Theory of the Passions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), esp. 215-33; Lester Crocker, The Age of Crisis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1959), 202-17, 256-324; and A. O. Lovejoy, Reflections on Human Nature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1961), esp. 217-45.
30 That Swift is attempting here to evoke a private world may account for one enigma often noticed: that is, the Travels' seeming lack of explicit allusion. A related point is the connection Swift and others made between pride and madness. In his influential Two Discourses concerning the Soul of Brutes (Pordage trans., London, 1683), Thomas Willis, for instance, asserts that "Ambition, Pride, and Emulation, have made some mad" (203). In studying Swift's Tale, Michael DePorte has traced the importance of the madness/pride association, and its relation to a corresponding loss of self and assumption of a delusional identity. (See DePorte's "Vehicles of Delusion: Swift, Locke, and the Madhouse Poems of James Carkesse," in Psychology and Literature In the Eighteenth Century, ed. C. Fox [New York: AMS Studies In the Eighteenth Century, 1987,] 69-86). A similar case could be made for Gulliver as one who goes mad through pride, and loses his identity while attempting to become something he is not. In discussing the "manner of ravings" of the insane, Willis notes that "Fabulous antiquity scarce ever thought of so many metamorphoses of men, which some have not believed really of themselves"; some (Willis adds) have even "believed themselves to be Dogs or Wolves, and have imitated their ways and kind by barking and howling" (Two Discourses, 188). Near the end of bk. IV, Gulliver declares that by
conversing with the Houyhnhnms, and looking upon them with Delight, I fell to imitate their Gait and Gesture, which is now grown into a Habit; and my Friends often tell me in a blunt way, that / trot like a Horse; which, however, I take for a great Compliment: Neither shall I disown, that in speaking, I am apt to fall into the Voice and manner of the Houyhnhnms, and hear my self ridiculed on that Account (4.10).
When he first saw the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver thought they must be "Magicians" (presumably "men") who had "metamorphosed themselves" into horses (4.1). In Gulliver's subsequent attempt to make the same transformation, to neigh and trot like the horses and imitate "their ways and kind," could we be witnessing yet another "metamorphosis"—in Willis's sense of the term? I have explored this question in a forthcoming essay, "Of Logic and Lycarthropy: Gulliver and the Faculties of the Mind."
31 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs, trans. R. C. McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1964), 310. Also see Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975); and Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. C. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1976). Derrida tells us that Rousseau's "masturbation … cannot be separated from his activity as a writer" (155). If this statement were applied to the narrator of the Mechanical Operation, Swift, I suspect, would agree.
32The Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, in A Tale, 288-89, 267.
33 Alexander Pope, The Art of Sinking in Poetry, ed. Edna L. Steeves (1952; reprint ed., New York: Russell and Russell, 1968), 12-13.
34 Joseph Glanvill, The Vanity of Dogmatizing (London, 1661), 119.
35 See John Sitter, Literary Loneliness in Mid-Eighteenth Century England (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982).
36 Edward Young, The Complaint; Or, Night Thoughts, bk. 8 ("Virtue's Apology") in The Poetical Works (London: Aldine, n.d.), vol. I, 210. At about the same time Young was seeing Narcissus as a positive ideal, others, in a related move, were challenging the traditional view of pride, turning the first of the medieval sins into a modern virtue. "[N]othing," said Hume, "is more useful to us in the conduct of life, than a due degree of pride" (A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, rev. P. H. Nidditch, 2nd ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978], 596).
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10150
SOURCE: "Swift and Romance," in Walking Naboth's Vineyard: New Studies of Swift, edited by Christopher Fox and Brenda Tooley, University of Notre Dame Press, 1995, pp. 98-126.
[Below, Doody argues that Swift's Gulliver's Travels, like all significant Western texts, builds on and is connected to the entire Western literary canon.]
My topic may seem perverse. After all, in Gulliver's Travels, as we remember, the palace at Lilliput is set on fire "by the Carelessness of a Maid of Honour, who fell asleep while she was reading a Romance."1 We may take this, if we will, as a symptom of Swift's own distrust of novelistic narrative of all kinds; the romance here is associated not only with female waste of time but also with incendiarism.2 Moreover, this particular romance evidently committed the crowning sin of being boring. It is certainly but a poor compliment to the romance in question, which is not named. Yet perhaps it was too interesting, so the Maid sat up past her bedtime, trying to have some private time. Richardson improves upon Swift's hint in Clarissa, where Lovelace, in his elaborately plotted arrangement of the "fire" at Mrs. Sinclair's weaves into his tale the impressively detailed pseudo-fact that the accident was owing "to the carelessness of Mrs. Sinclair's cookmaid, who, having sat up to read the simple History of Dorastus and Faunia when she should have been in bed, had set fire to an old pair of callico window-curtains" (4:365).3 Yet within both of these eighteenth-century works of fiction, the reference to "Romance" may serve not as a means of disposing of an unwanted form but rather as a (comic) admission of the presence of Romance within this romance, and the presence of awkward readers and the insistent absorption of the act of reading—an absorption that makes people careless.
My own project here must inevitably seem perverse, for I want to ignore some or most of the elements in Gulliver's Travels which we usually focus upon—and even to ignore temporarily its primary nature as a satire and the questions regarding the historical author's historically satiric intentions. I am going to look at what is often called "background." But we are getting less satisfied with that term. Individual works don't rise like clear blue vases against a background of wallpaper—the "background" proves to be an aspect of the fabric of a work. I believe that all novels are interconnected—at least, I mean in the Western tradition, a tradition which includes influences from Asia and Africa. All novels are connected, and every Western novel is related—in some way, at more or less distance—to every other. Swift's Gulliver's Travels is related to the context of Western fiction which is far larger than the developing eighteenth-century English novel. In that full context it looks a little less singular, for the major trends of Western fiction have never been entirely realistic. It is a satiric romance deriving from a host of romances. Let us not forget that the word "Novel" was not the dominant word for the longer prose fiction, and that the word "Romance" could still be used in a positive sense, at least in the first part of the century. In 1715 an English translator of Huet hopes that England will be able to produce romances.4 Western literature included, as Huet shows, the whole tradition of prose fiction in the West from antiquity. Prose fiction in Greek and Latin had enjoyed a terrific boom in the Renaissance. Works by Heliodorus, Achilles Tatius, Longus, and others were translated and retranslated, as well as the almost omnipresent Latin novel Asinus Aureus or Metamorphoses by Apuleius. Boccaccio's early novel Filocolo shows the influence of Greek romance, well before the age of print, but once the age of print arrived the older fictions as well as new ones had an immensely expanded readership. If you liked reading novels—however much you kept this pastime to appropriately infrequent idle moments—in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, the literature you read included a number of highly popular works, like Heliodorus' Aithiopika, which have been occluded in the last two centuries. The anonymous editor of The Adventures of Theagenes and Chariclia, A Romance (2 vols., 1717), reproducing yet another English edition of this popular story, says "this book may be styled the Mother Romance of the World."5 The association of Romance with the feminine indicates that prose fiction is considered suspiciously "feminine" as novelists have found, no excusso, quosdam extremi liquoris aspergine, alios putore nidoris faetidi a meis iam quassis scapulis abegisset.
[But the men … began to beat me again and would have killed me if my belly, compressed with the pain of the blows and full of an abundance of raw vegetables and weakened by a slimy flux, had not thrown out excrement like water from a pipe, forcing them away from my shattered back, some with the spray of the liquid, others by the putrid stink.] (l:Bk. X, 188)8
Much more decorously, it is true, Gulliver forces the Lilliputians away from him, first when he wishes to make water and later too one imagines when he disburthens himself. One pities the unfortunate two servants who must work with wheelbarrows to remove this daily product.
The violence of the ass's pain is picked up again in the description of the suffering dog in Book III of Gulliver's Travels. The dog is blown up by the operation of the bellows by the brutal physician—an operation which calls to mind Cervantes' "Prologo" of Part II of Don Ouixote with its odd anecdote. In Seville, according to Cervantes, there once was a man who was in the habit of seizing any stray dog, thrusting a straw into its fundament and blowing it up as round as a ball. This man would then say to bystanders "and there always were many," '"Perhaps now your worships think that it is little labor to blow up a dog?'"9 In Swift's scene we see that a good deal of work goes into blowing up a dog (hinchar un perro) and that the animal suffers in the infliction of inflation, like Lucius being beaten: "the Animal was ready to burst, and made so violent a Discharge, as was very offensive to me and my Companions" (155). The noxiousness of its discharge does not save this animal as it once saved Apuleius' Lucius, "The Dog died on the Spot…. "
Lucius the ass is always greedy (he was saved because of having eaten too many vegetables). Later he is able to indulge his taste for large quantities of food cooked for human beings when he serves the slaves of a pastry-cook and chef:
In the evenings after luxurious dinners … my masters used to bring back to their little lodging numerous leftovers: one brought pork, pullets, fish and generous remnants of every kind of meat; the other, breads, crisp biscuits, fritters, hook-shaped pastries, small biscuits and many other honeyed tidbits. When they had locked up and gone to the baths for refreshment, I would stuff myself full with these divine dainties. (2: Bk. X, 240)
Once he is discovered, the slaves and their masters realize there is money to be made out of Lucius' prowess in eating, especially once the master has tested this ass by offering him a feast of spicy food and good wine. "And I, although I was beautifully stuffed, wishing to be agreeable and win his commendation, hungrily fell to on the delicacies exhibited." He proves that he is fit to be instructed, tamed, and shown as a spectacle. "I had made my master famous with my wonderful arts…. 'Here' [people] said, 'is the man who possesses as friend and dinner-companion an ass—a wrestling ass, a dancing ass, an ass who understands human voices and can express his own meaning by nods'" (2: Bk. X, 249).
Swift's Gulliver has many of the same propensities—including the ability to save himself (temporarily at least) from extinction or banishment by becoming a spectacle and show. In Lilliput he shows off his eating prowess—very like the Golden Ass:
One day his imperial Majesty being informed of my Way of living, desired that himself, and his Royal Consort, with the young Princes of the Blood of both Sexes, might have the Happiness … of dining with me. They came accordingly…. Flimnap the Lord High Treasurer attended there likewise, with his white Staff; and I observed he often looked on me with a sour Countenance, which I would not seem to regard, but eat more than usual, in Honour to my dear Country, as well as to fill the Court with Admiration. (45)
It is an asinine thing to do, to eat more than usual. Once the pleasure in the wonder at the show has abated, the expense will become more and more noticeable.
Gulliver's odd mixture of pride and greed, like that seen in Lucius, exhibits and emblematizes his asininity. The ass in an older mythology, as Jack Winkler remarks in his commentary on Apuleius, is an emblem or symbol of Seth/Typhon, the enemy of Isis. In The Golden Ass, Lucius-as-ass has set himself in opposition to Isis and can be saved only by her.10 Gulliver, I'd like to suggest—though this speculation isn't necessary to my main argument—likewise sets himself up against the Goddess (comically), illustrated in his urination on the Queen's palace. The Goddess figure reappears in the figure of Glumdalclitch (who treats him like a baby in Book II) in a land which fully illustrates the power of Ceres. In Book IV Gulliver rejects the power of Aphrodite in his rejection of the woman who makes advances to him—yet at the same time, he is comically yoked within a parody of marriage. The "Sorrel Nag" is Gulliver's companion and mate in Houyhnhnmland. Fortuna (Fortune) we may remember in Apuleius' story turns Lucius the ass into the partner of the white horse that he himself owns (or owned):
Sed quid ego pluribus de Fortunae scaevitate conqueror, quam nee istud puduit me cum meo famulo meoque vectore illo equo factum conservum atque coniugem?
[But what can I say more in complaint against the savagery of Fortune, than that she was not even ashamed of making me the fellow-slave and yokemate of my own servant and carrier, my own horse?] (2: Bk. VII, 8)
Gulliver boasts that the "Sorrel Nag" is "my Fellow-Servant (for so at this Distance I may presume to call him)" (245), when that horse is ordered by Gulliver's master to follow the talking Yahoo's "instructions." Gulliver asked for this particular helper: "I knew he had a Tenderness for me," Gulliver adds (246). This English traveler is ridiculously proud of what causes shame to Apuleius' hero. Gulliver is a horse's "Fellow-Servant"—an almost literal translation of "conservum. " As several commentators have noted, Apuleius' word "coniugem " normally means "spouse" or "marriage partner," and Lucius is involved in a parodie marriage with his own (male) white horse. In Houyhnhnmland, of course, white is an inferior color, and Gulliver is partnered with a sorrel horse. In Gulliver's eyes, at least, this partnership exists—he calls himself a "Fellow Servant" with the Nag because that moves him up in the world. But in the Houyhnhnm's eyes, he cannot be even a servant, or a slave—he is classed with the beasts, the Yahoos. So is Lucius also, like Gulliver—Lucius reclassifies himself and the horse in terms of human beings: famulus, servus. As a Yahoo, Gulliver is inferior even to the asses. The asstheme emerges directly in Gulliver's Travels towards the end of Book IV, when the Houyhnhnms discuss the matter at their assembly, and decide
That, the Inhabitants taking a Fancy to use the Service of the Yahoos, had very imprudently neglected to cultivate the Breed of Asses, which were a comely Animal, easily kept, more tame and orderly, without any offensive Smell, strong enough for Labour, although they yield to the other in Agility of Body; and if their Braying be no agreeable Sound, it is far preferable to the horrible Howlings of the Yahoos. (237)
The disagreeable sound of the ass's bray was not only proverbial, but enshrined in religious custom, according, for instance, to Plutarch, who tells us "The people of Busiris and Lykopolis do not use trumpets at all because they make a noise like an ass; and they believe the ass to be in general not a pure but a daemonic beast…. In the sacrifice to Helios they instruct those who venerate the god not to wear golden objects … nor to give food to an ass."11 We may note that the last taboo is broken by the cook and baker and their master in Apuleius and, metaphorically, by all who give food to Gulliver—as well as literally by Tristram Shandy when he gives the ass a macaroon.12 Gulliver shouts and hollers and brays—see the account of his rescue from the rocky island at the beginning of Book III, when he sees the flying island: "I called and shouted with the utmost Strength of my Voice" (131). The noises Gulliver makes confirm his Houyhnhnm acquaintance in the opinion that he is a Yahoo, inferior even to an ass in all respects including voice. If Lucius is embarrassed by being able to make only assy noises, Gulliver cannot even rise to that.
Apuleius' novel is only one version of a story perpetually told in novels of all kinds—the story of the hapless self injured, mutilated, transformed, displaced. One of the most common devices used in ancient and early modern fiction to image change and to effect it at the plot level is the shipwreck. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, to which Gulliver's Travels is a direct response, is only one strong example of the use of a well-known device or trope of fiction—and Robinson Crusoe should itself be seen against the rich background of the fiction of "romance"—or of the story of the Novel of which it is a part. The ancient novelists use the shipwreck with a considerable degree of sophistication and variety. Heliodorus in his Aithiopika has caused his characters to encounter the vision of an annoyed Odysseus, condemning them to some accident and delay in requital for the lack of honor they have paid to him—a comic emblem of the Novel's usurping disrespect of the Epic. Achilles Tatius, through incremental repetition of accidents at sea and ghastly events on shipboard, plays with the shipwreck theme, as does Boccaccio in his fourteenth-century adaptation of the Greek novel motifs. The hero of his Filocolo, shipwrecked near Parthenope, (Napoli) complains to the gods, asking why they are persecuting him, "I am not Aeneas!"13 In the Preface to Ibrahim, ou L'illustre Bassa, Madeleine de Scudéry (or her brother Georges) comments upon the frequent use of shipwrecks in fiction:
As for me, I hold, that the more natural adventures are, the more satisfaction they give; and the ordinary Course of the Sun seemes more mervailous to me, than the strange and deadly rayes of Comets; for which reason it is also that I have not caused so many Shipwracks, as there are in some antient Romanzes … one might think that Aeolus hath given them the Winds inclosed in a bagg, as he gave them to Vlysses, soe patly doe they unchain them; they make tempests and shipwrack when they please, they raise them in the Pacifique Sea, they find rocks and shelves where the most expert Pilots have never observed any…. Howbeit I pretend not hereby to banish Shipwracks from Romanzes, I approve of them in the workes of others, and make use of them in mine; I know likewise that the Sea is the Scene most proper to make great changes in, and that some have named it the Theater of inconstancie….14
Swift of course does raise storms (and other accidents) in the literal Pacific Sea (see the beginning of Book II). His well-thoughtout pattern of sea-incidents is based on true accounts like that of Dampier, as others have noted, but it also goes back to the novel tradition that stretches from antiquity. As Scudéry admits, one has to approve of shipwrecks in fiction; "the Sea is the Scene most proper to make great changes in." One catches here something of the late Renaissance sophistication about the emblems and tropes of fiction, and their sense of the depth of metaphorical meaning in fictional incident—a sense that Swift inherited and which enabled him to write fiction (and nonrealistic fiction, "romance," at that).
Both Defoe and Swift could draw on a great body of fiction dealing with transformed states, interracial and intercultural encounters, and sea-changes. Shipwrecked or marooned characters pop up in the pages of fiction. Of course, they still continue to do so—think of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876) or Fay Weldon's The Hearts and Lives of Men (1987). In Cervantes' last novel, Persiles y Sigistnunda, there are many surprising characters who have suffered shipwrecks along with other complex accidents. "Whether thou chuse Cervantes' serious air" is a line which can certainly bear reference to Persiles as well as to Don Quixote.15 Early in Cervantes' last novel—which was, I believe, a major influence on both Defoe and Swift—we encounter Antonio, a man who has suffered misfortunes. A Spaniard, he was on an English ship leaving Lisbon for England. On the voyage he got into a quarrel with an English sailor and slapped him in the face. This led to a riot—one of the English gentlemen saved Antonio from being killed, but he was cast adrift in the ship's boat, a little dinghy, with some salt fat and hardtack and two barrels of water. He drifts and rows, is nearly swamped by water, arrives on a rocky shore of a wolfhaunted island and has to flee. Eventually he is tossed upon a wild shore, and laments it, seeing here only the theater of his misfortunes. He sees no people, only mountain goats and small animals. Antonio is soon, however, comforted by the appearance of "a young Barbarian maide, about fifteen yeares of age."16 He first sees her on the beach, gathering shellfish from the rocks. He takes her in his arms, takes her to his cave and kisses her (but does not rape her). She responds with interest and curiosity, and feeds him with bread not made from wheat; next day she comes to him with more supplies.
Antonio, referred to perpetually as "Spanish barbarian" finds in his "Barbarian maide" Ricla a perfect and providential helpmate. The two marry. His response to her is very visibly the opposite of the response of the terrified Gulliver to the Houyhnhnm girl in Book IV of Gulliver's Travels. (Ricla also represents what is so notably missing on Crusoe's island, a lack which Crusoe himself doesn't seem to notice.) The sensations and experiences of Antonio during his marooning-cum-shipwreck are very similar to those of Gulliver at the beginning of Book III and to his confused and chaotic travels after leaving Houyhnhnmland, before he is picked up by the Portuguese crew captained by Pedro de Mendez. Some symmetry of reference seems to be involved here. Cervantes' barbarian Antonio is an inhabitant of the Iberian peninsula who embarks in Lisbon on an English ship going to England—he is cast adrift by the English. In Swift's story (if we keep Cervantes' story in mind) the Portuguese crew are returning good for evil; this crew bound for Lisbon rescues an Englishman who is, in their eyes, marooned and adrift—as indeed Gulliver certainly was set adrift by an English crew before he settled among the Houyhnhnms as a Yahoo. In his ill-humor with the crew, Gulliver resembles the young Spanish barbarian who hit a foreign sailor—but Gulliver of course would not wish to touch a human.
In Cervantes' novel we encounter another victim of the sea, another actor in that "Theatre of inconstancie" in Rutilio, the former dancing master of Siena. After some vicissitudes, including his being condemned to death for a seduction and rescued by a witch, and then eluding the power of werewolves, he settled in Norway. He settles with his master and teacher, who is a goldsmith, and on a voyage with that master is wrecked and cast up on a barbarian shore where the first thing he sees is "a Barbarian hanged on a tree":
having put off my clothes, and buried him in the sand, I put on his attire, which could not chuse but fit mee well, being none other but skinnes unsewed and never cut out by measure but bound onely on the body, as you have seene. The better to dissemble their language, and not bee knowne for a stranger, I fained my selfe dumbe and deafe: and with this industrie I passed farther into the Isle, skipping & capering in the aire….
… with this policie I passed for a Barbarian, and dumbe; and the children to see me leape, fed mee with such victualls as they had. (Bk. I, chap. 9, p. 43)
Rutilio the shipwrecked barbarian represents we might say the state of being shipwrecked in itself—strandedness. In all of these novels, and I am inclined to say in the Novel in general as a genre, coming to a shore is very important. Traversing, changing—coming to a new experience, a new phase of life—all of these are represented by the arrival on a shore. To arrive on a shore is to arrive at an Other Place, to begin to accept becoming Another Self. The traveler to another shore is symbolically naked, unclothed, or inadequately clothed and accoutered—even if like Charlotte Bronte's Lucy Snowe, crossing the Channel in Villette, he/she has brought a small trunk along (or has tried to do so). The Novel tends, in its stories and in its metaphors, to dwell on shores, on marshy or sandy margins where earth and water mingle and are not yet separated. Novel characters must always live on an edge, for a while. Gulliver, of course, lives very visibly on an edge several times—ranging from the shallow waters and soft shore of Lilliput to the current-driven edge and hard rocks of the shore of the uncomfortable island to which the castaway takes his canoe in the first chapter of Book III. "I found the Island to be all rocky, only a little intermingled with Tufts of Grass" (129). He lives hard, like Cervantes' Antonio and the "Barbarian maide": "I gathered Plenty of Eggs upon the Rocks, and got a quantity of dry Sea-weed, and parched Grass, which I designed to kindle the next Day, and roast my Eggs as well as I could…. My bed was the same dry Grass and Sea-weed which I intended for Fewel [sic]…. I considered how impossible it was to preserve my Life, in so desolate a Place" (130).
In another canoe, made of Yahoo skins, Gulliver hides on another shore, hoping to escape the observation of European human beings:
I … got into the same Creek from whence I set out in the Morning; choosing rather to trust my self among these Barbarians than live with European Yahoos. I drew up my Canoo [sic] as close as I could to the Shore, and hid my self behind a Stone by the Little Brook….
Cowering behind a stone at the edge of an island, Gulliver is discovered by the Portuguese seamen:
at last they found me flat on my Face behind the Stone. They gazed a while in Admiration at my strange uncouth Dress; my Coat made of Skins, my wooden-soaled Shoes, and my furred Stockings; from whence, however, they concluded I was not a Native of the Place, who all go naked. (249-250)
Gulliver is not one of the local tribes, those he termed "Barbarians"—because he is clothed. But his dress proclaims him a Barbarian. Cervantes' Rutilio dressed in skins attracts our attention with a kind of horror—not just because he is wearing uncouth clothing, but because he stole the rough skin garments from a dead man. He is like an executioner, taking the clothes of a hanged man. Rutilio, once a dancing-master (that is, someone who represents and teaches an excess of "civilization") and also formerly a goldsmith (that is, one who dresses people in layers of wealth) undergoes a devolution of civilization. A process of regression seems visibly at work in his fate—interestingly, layers are peeling off, like Peer Gynt's onion. He seems to be unselving in stages. Gulliver's unselving in stages takes longer. We watched him accustom himself to the simplicity demanded by his life in Houyhnhnmland:
When my Cloaths were worn to Rags, I made my self others with the Skins of Rabbets, and of a certain beautiful Animal about the same size, called Nnuhnoh, the Skin of which is covered with a fine Down. Of these I likewise made very tolerable Stockings. I soaled [sic] my Shoes with Wood which I cut from a Tree, and fitted to the upper Leather, and when this was worn out, I supplied it with the Skins of Yahoos, dried in the Sun. (241)
The Portuguese sailors wonder at Gulliver's clothes, including the wooden-soled shoes; they don't know what the uppers of these shoes are made of—fortunately for them. Rutilio attracts our wonder and horror because he is wearing a dead man's skins: Gulliver, because he is literally dressed in dead men's skins.
The figure of the Man in Skins turns up at odd moments in fiction, throughout the history of fiction. The most benevolent example of the figure is old Philetas in Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. He is described when he comes to see the two pubescent lovers; he is
presbyt s sisyran endedymenos, karbatinas hypodedemenos, p ran ex rt menos kai t n p ran palaian.17
(an old man wearing a rough outer garment of goatskin, with brogues of undressed leather upon his feet, and his leather wallet—an extremely antiquated leather wallet—hanging down.)
It is this old man who tells Daphnis and Chloe about the appearance of Eros in his garden—thus giving the youths the name of the god they serve and the name of the passion they feel (Love). Philetas can have the vision of Eros, and pass on the identification of Love, because he himself is past it—as indeed we may gather from the description, with the comic emphasis upon the antiquity or obsolence of his bag. The Man in Skins, whenever he appears in fiction, is an outsider, someone outside the central emotions, conduct, and structures known in society. It was the genius of Defoe to take this marginalized supernumery and make him into the central character or consciousness of the novel. But Defoe neither exhausts all the potential meanings nor subsumes all the representations of this figure (that is, men in skins in eighteenth-century fiction do not have to be merely allusions to Robinson in his goatskin garment and moccasins, his sisyra and karbatinai). Fielding's old Man of the Hill belongs to the whole tradition out of which he arises. He is aged, like Philetas—but unlike Philetas he cannot offer a vision of Eros. His story of his own life and desires is a sour story which has left him soured. Unlike Robinson, but very like Gulliver, he has chosen an antisocial solitude. He is frightening to look at:
This Person was of the tallest Size, with a long Beard as white as Snow. His Body was cloathed with the Skin of an Ass, made something into the Form of a Coat. He wore likewise Boots on his Legs, and a Cap on his Head, both composed of the Skin of some other Animals. (Tom Jones, Bk. VIII, chap, x)18
It is because of what we know about Gulliver that Fielding can make us shudder at the phrase "Skin of some other Animals," and because of Gulliver's Yahoos and Apuleius' Lucius, we are not likely to be happy about the "Skin of an Ass."
What Gulliver has in common with all of these—Philetas, Robinson, the Man of the Hill—is a tendency to be both judgmental and prophetic—prophetic in the sense of "telling it like it is" rather than in the sense of foretelling the future. The figure of the Man in Skins, whenever and wherever we encounter him, is always oracular. What a Man in Skins has to say is never the whole truth, for this marginal personage cannot know the whole truth, just as he cannot be integrated into a careless society while remaining poised aside from it. But what the oracular Man in Skins has to say is always some truth. One of the later avatars of this figure is James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo, the deerslayer, Leatherstocking, who appears in all of Cooper's novels as an important figure but not the conventional hero of each story—a role borne by another. Natty, always the Man in Skins, comes to be a Philetas, an old man in skins, when we see him in The Pioneers (1823). Tall, thin, sun-tanned, wearing a fox-skin cap and a "kind of coat, made of dressed deer-skin," he also wears "deer-skin moccasins" and "long leggings of the same material as the moccasins, which, gartering over the knees of his tarnished buck-skin breeches, had obtained for him … the nick name of Leatherstocking" (The Pioneers, chap. I).19 As usual, the figure of the Man in Skins arouses in the reader fascination combined with a certain unease or aversion. The Man in Skins represents some sort of primary state which is a "pre" state, something precedent to a number of other things (such as civilization). Yet that pre-state may also be the post-state to which we tend (after love, marriage, or civilization are done for, or when life itself tends to its end). We fear the advent of the Man in Skins, for he is always a reminder of loss. For Cooper, of course, Bumppo is a reminder of historical loss—the loss of that first phase of individualistic pioneering without need of settlement, the absolute freedom without need of law which it must be the purpose of the other project, the founding of colonies and of the nation of America, to make men relinquish. But the Man in Skins always announces a number of losses, of deprivations. Like John the Baptist, another famous Man in Skins, this figure tells us we must give something up. Daphnis and Chloe, instructed by the mildest and most benign of these figures, must relinquish their childhood state and enter into an adult awareness of heterosexual love. Even such a gain as this means an advent of loss as well as of suffering—closing in the prospect of arriving at old age, and a new deprivation when love becomes impossible once more.
Gulliver is a Man in Skins, external to society, outside the world of marriage and civility. The Portuguese try forcibly to reintroduce him to these things—they strip him of the skins and put European clothing on him. But the captain's shirt smells too human, and inwardly Gulliver remains the Man in Skins comically clinging to his own "barbarism" as a means of informing us about our own. For the truth is that we're all Yahoos—this is the other side of Swift's coin. I am not using the novel's relation to other novels to try to push a view of Swift's story as "soft-boiled" in its moral. Gulliver is bizarre and stupid, with an un-Christian love of barbarism and an un-Platonic love of lurking in caves. These are unworthy and unreasonable tastes which the Portuguese sailors cannot but reprehend—and the more so, perhaps, if they have read Cervantes' Persiles y Sigismunda. From their point of view, Gulliver fits in very nicely with the pattern of barbarism in need of further development—the type encountered by the central characters of Cervantes' last novel in their journey towards holiness and fulfillment. But at the very same time, Gulliver's view of human beings holds true—except that he will not recognize that he is to be identified as human and thus must share in the condemnation.
Gulliver in his own progress is both civilized and civilizing hero and crude barbarian. The mixture of elements can be better understood if we consider Swift's story in the light of a work perennially popular from the eighth century A.D. through the Enlightenment, a work (or works) forgotten until very recently. This is the strange book best known as the Alexander Romance, though it has many other titles, such as The Life of Alexander, History of Alexander, The Story of the Battles of Alexander and so on. In the Middle Ages it existed in several distinct versions, a matter succinctly explained by Richard Stoneman in his preface to The Greek Alexander Romance published by Penguin Books (1991). This is a story (in its various versions) which has had an astonishingly wide influence over Western fiction; it can be felt in Dante and Chaucer, we can suspect it in Scudéry and Bunyan. There is a direct reference to it in Behn's Oroonoko (1688), or at least to material coming directly from that narrative.20 It lies, I am convinced, in the background of Gulliver's Travels.
The Story of Alexander might well be entitled "Alexander's Travels," for of course Alexander, conqueror of many lands, travels to many lands, some merely remote and some altogether fabulous. It does not seem to have been appreciated by the classical scholars who have worked on this text that the representation of the Alexander story in this fictional form offers a very sophisticated critique of Alexander's project. The story is told with an apparent simplicity of narrative which hides a deal of cunning in the strategies. Alexander, dauntless, heroic, godlike, is yet psychologically weakened by a dubious parentage which both confirms his claim to be a descendant of the god Ammon and denies him the right of inheritance to Philip's kingdom. Son of a secret liaison between Queen Olympias and an Egyptian priest, Alexander, quasi-Egyptian, is never quite sure what culture he serves, what heritage he has. That which makes him godlike makes him ambiguous. He kills his biological father, but remains in thrall to his mother, Olympias, and throughout his story he has complex relations with women and with the feminine. It is the voices of birds with women's faces (harpies in short) that warn him he can go no further; it is a woman, a black woman, Queen Candace of Ethiopia, who gets the better of him. Part of his response to the strange kingdoms he enters is always terror, which makes him furious. His project is justified in that he encounters both foes and barbarians—barbarians who prove to the Greek forces that they are in the civilizing right of it to come and conquer.
Alexander, like Gulliver, is consumed with curiosity to see new wonders and to make experiments. As he writes to his mother, Olympias, he conducted an experiment in "the country of the Apple-eaters":
There we saw a huge man with hair all over his body, and we were frightened. I gave orders to capture him. When he was taken, he gazed at us ferociously. I ordered a naked woman to be brought to him; but he grabbed her and ate her. (The Greek Alexander Romance, 116)21
Not "Apple-eaters," evidently, but raw-flesh-eaters. Alexander's experiment is here carried out at the cost of the female's life, but the hairy man's cannibalism triumphantly proves his inhumanity. (I think this episode is recollected in Candide, in the adventure of the Oreillons in South America.)22 Alexander is Gulliver's prototype not only in his curiosity, but in his activities as a sort of super-projector. He and his men come upon a troop of "animals resembling men": "from their heads to their navels they were like men, but below they were horses" (124). Using trickery, Alexander is able to trap and kill a lot of them with great bloodshed. He doesn't wish to kill them all:
Alexander wanted to capture some of them and bring them back to our world. He brought about fifty out of the ditch. They survived for twenty-two days, but as he did not know what they fed on, they all died. (125)
The Alexander Romance seems satiric and ironic in itself—before Swift, as it were, gets there. Alexander is a careless collector who wants to exhibit the centaurs but forgets to find out what to feed them.
Alexander is, in some of the lights offered by this book, a mad exploiter, forcing upon the world the horrible benefit of his conquest, a hero of what Swift calls "conquests and systems." At one point in the Alexander Romance the hero is directly rebuked by a group who set themselves over against him, absolutely. Having conquered India he encounters the "naked philosophers," the gymnosophists, who are not afraid of him, as they have no wealth he can steal, and want nothing from him. Rather, they let him see that they judge him. Their creed is explained in an exchange of questions and answers:
Alexander asked them some questions. "Do you have no graves?" was the first.
"The ground where we dwell is also our grave," came the reply. "Here we lie down and, as it were, bury ourselves when we sleep. The earth gives us birth, the earth feeds us, and under the earth when we die we spend our eternal sleep."
"Which is the wickedest of all creatures?"
"Man," they replied.
And he, "Why?"
"Learn from yourself the answer to that. You are a wild beast, and see how many other wild beasts you have with you, to help you tear away the lives of other beasts."
Alexander was not angry, but smiled. Then he asked, "What is kingship?"
"Unjust power used to the disadvantage of others; insolence supported by opportunity; a golden burden." (132)
The gymnosophists' answer, that is, is that humans are Yahoo, and Alexander a chief Yahoo. In a way, little needs to be added in Swift's book, save his satire on the idea of the naked philosophers themselves. The Houyhnhnms are the only true naked philosophers, our humanity not being capable of furnishing true gymnosophists. These horse-people truly accept death and dying.
[H]er Husband … she said happened that very Morning to Lhnuwnh. The Word is strongly expressive in their Language, but not easily rendered into English; it signifies, to retire to his first Mother. (Gulliver's Travels, 240)
The Houyhnhnms do not have tombstones, anymore than the gymnosophists.
The Alexander Romance itself could also have been instrumental in suggesting to Swift the employment of horses as the wise race. As we have seen, there are men-horses in the narrative, but the most important horse is Alexander's steed Bucephalus, who has some rational characteristics. Bucephalus, visiting Alexander on the king's deathbed, sheds tears. The Sorrel Nag doesn't go quite that far on bidding farewell to Gulliver, though the last word from Houyhnhnmland is the sound of "the Sorrel Nag (who always loved me) crying out … Take care of thy self, gentle Yahoo" (248). Bucephalus also possesses the violence that Gulliver himself at length wishes to attribute to the gentle Houyhnhnms. When Bucephalus comes into the presence of the man who has poisoned Alexander, the horse takes revenge for his dying master:
When Bucephalus saw him, he cast off his morose and dejected look, and, just as if he were a rational, even a clever man—I suppose it was done through Providence above—he avenged his master. He ran into the midst of the crowd, seized the slave in his teeth and dragged him to Alexander; he shook him violently and gave a loud whinny to show that he was going to have his revenge. Then he took a great leap into the air, dragging the treacherous and deceitful slave with him, and smashed him against the ground. The slave was torn apart; bits of him flew all over everyone like snow falling off a roof in the wind. (The Greek Alexander Romance, 157)
(This event is the less surprising if we remember that Bucephalus was a man-eating and untameable horse until young Alexander tamed him.)
The description of Bucephalus' revenge may remind us of Gulliver's fantasy of the Houyhnhnms' violent resistance to a European conquest:
Their Prudence, Unanimity, Unacquaintedness with Fear, and their Love of their Country would amply supply all Defects in the military Art. Imagine twenty Thousand of them breaking into the Midst of an European Army, confounding the Ranks, overturning the Carriages, battering the Warriors faces into Mummy, by terrible Yerks from their hinder Hoofs; For they would well deserve the Character given to Augustus: Recalcitrat undique tutus. (257-58)
We may reflect, however, that Gulliver's fantasy may be pious wish, implicitly denied in the Alexander Romance where the centaurs, who were unanimous, brave, and patriotic were still miserably defeated because "as beasts they were incapable of understanding the devilment of men" (124). They decide to charge into the Macedonians, despising them for their cowardice, but they tumble into the treacherous grass-covered ditch that has been dug to receive them. Unused to lying, the Houyhnhnms would be outdone by the treacherous Europeans, who, like Alexander's Greeks and Macedonians, do not mind looking cowardly for a time if they can obtain their ends by any means.
Gulliver, then as we have seen thus far, is an Ass, a Victim of Shipwreck, a Man in Skins, and a parodic Alexander. But there are two other aspects of Gulliver which strongly relate him to character types and characteristic events in other fiction. Gulliver is both the Enslaved Person and the Foundling Child—the latter in a special category as Floating Child.
In many novels, central characters undergo a period of enslavement, or at least of imprisonment accompanied by destitution. I believe this experience underlies the plot of the Novel and that metaphorically it can be found in all novels, but novel characters at the most literal level of plot often are forced to enter prisons, vicious schools, insane asylums, etc., in order to fulfill this novelistic fate. In the Greek novels of antiquity the central characters are customarily enslaved for a certain length of time. The slavery involves captivity and customarily bondage. Gulliver is in bondage when tied with strings by the Lilliputians, as Lucian's hero was seized by the sun-people and bound with cobwebs. Even when the slavery is in the most luxurious circumstances, it is nonetheless painful for the person(s) undergoing it. Joseph is the biblical archetype of the wrongfully enslaved free person who becomes servant in a palace. He is the Imprisoned Courtier, whose very virtue in refusing Potiphar's wife lands him in renewed captivity.
In Heliodorus' Aithiopika, both hero and heroine become the captive of the Persians, nominal slaves of Oroondates, the satrap of the Great King, but really the possession of Arsake, his wife, who reigns as queen in her palace at Memphis in Persian splendor. She is much attracted to the hero, Theagenes, who decides to humor her and use his enslaved position with good grace in order to preserve both himself and his beloved Charikleia. Theagenes becomes a special type of the Enslaved Person of fiction—he becomes the Imprisoned Courtier, entering the world of court life with its petty jealousies and jockeyings. In Theagenes' case, he must watch out for his fellow-slave Achaimenes, son of the Queen's nurse Kybele, who wants Charikelia for himself.
The next day Achiamenes took him to wait at table, as Arsake had commanded. He changed into the sumptuous Persian apparel she had sent him and, with a mixture of delight and disgust, bedecked himself with bangles of gold and collars studded with precious gems. Achaimenes then tried to demonstrate and explain to him something of the art of cup bearing, but Theagenes ran to one of the tripods on which the cups stood, picked up one of the precious vessels, and exclaimed: "I have no need of teachers! I shall use my instinct in serving my mistress…. "
He mixes a delicious drink and serves the cup with "exquisite grace" to the charmed Arsake.
The rage and envy that filled his [Achaimenes'] heart were so obvious that even Arsake noticed him scowling and muttering something under his breath to his companions. (Bk. VII)23
Gulliver, we may remember, begins his life in Brobdingnag as a slave—as he tells the Queen:
She asked, whether I would be content to live at Court. I bowed down to the Board of the Table, and humbly answered, that I was my Master's Slave, but if I were at my own Disposal, I should be proud to devote my Life to her Majesty's Service. (Gulliver's Travels, 80)
When the Queen graciously makes the purchase, Gulliver is not slow to pick up the manner of court flattery which the necessity of surviving has evidently taught him. He tells her
I was out of all fear of being ill treated under the Protection of so great and good an Empress, the Ornament of Nature, the Darling of the World, the Delight of her Subjects, the Phoenix of the Creation…. (80-81)
Like Theagenes, he arouses the jealousy of a rival—in his case, the palace Dwarf. Gulliver becomes the pet courtier. Like Theagenes he wears silken garments:
The Queen likewise ordered the thinnest Silks that could be gotten, to make me Cloaths; not much thicker than an English Blanket…. They were after the Fashion of the Kingdom, partly resembling the Persian, and partly the Chinese; are a very grave decent Habit. (83)
Gulliver does not have to wait at table as a cup-bearer, like those Ganymede figures Theagenes and Joseph—indeed, he could not physically do so. But his life at the Brobdingnagian court is very strongly associated with the table.
The Queen became so fond of my Company, that she could not dine without me. I had a Table placed upon the same at which her Majesty eat, just at her left Elbow … I had an entire set of Silver Dishes and Plates, and other Necessaries…. She [the Queen] drank out of a Golden Cup, above a Hogshead at a Draught. (83-84)
Arsake sent her prisoners some food in her own golden dishes (chap. 18); this is "Persian" style. Swift's comedy parodies the oriental splendor.
Of course the palace of Brobdingnag does not have the secret and unwholesome eroticism of the palace of Memphis. Yet there is an Oedipal eroticism diffused through the second book of Gulliver's Travels which can seem reminiscent of certain elements in the Aithiopika. In both cases, imprisoned visitors are subjected perforce to a smothering maternal rule. Kybele, the old nurse, speaks to Arsake as her baby and also treats the imprisoned pair as infants, addressing them as "My children," "O tekna." Taking the hint, Theagenes repeatedly addresses her as "Mother" (O m ter).24 Gulliver is perpetually mothered in Brobdingnag, by Glumdalclitch chiefly but also by the Queen. A good case could be made out for Brobdingnag as the land of the Feminine, the abode of Ceres. Ceres is properly worshipped by the King, who forswears fighting and violence, armies and the gift of gunpowder, and celebrates the virtue of making "two Ears of Corn, or two Blades of Grass to grow upon a Spot of Ground where only one grew before" (111). Unlike the realm of the Persian in Heliodorus' story, this feminine place is a good place—the Great Good Place indeed! But Gulliver can partake of its goodness only by becoming like a little child.
This leads me to the last comparison. Gulliver has, as we have seen, in his time played many parts in Romance's repertoire: Curious Traveler, Metamorphosized Man (or Ass), Man in Skins, Enslaved Person, Imprisoned Courtier. The last role I wish to look at may be described as the Foundling, or Rescued Child. More particularly, Gulliver belongs to what may be called a subset of that category, the Precious-Child-in-a-Floating-Box. Moses may be called the most famous as well as the most important representative of that type. But the literary tradition offers numerous other examples in prose fiction.
The most famous case is that of the celebrated Amadis of Gaul. Amadis is illicitly conceived and born illegitimate. His mother, Elisena, long virtuous and known for her great discretion, falls in love with an attractive visitor, King Perion, invited by her father to his castle. The two lovers have ten nights of passion—and Amadis is the result. The Princess bears him secretly, with the help of her maidservant, who also devises the "ark" in which the baby is to be cradled:
she obtained four boards large enough so that a baby with its swaddling clothes could be contained therein as in an ark, and as long as a sword, and she caused certain materials to be brought for making a pitch with which she might join them together so that water would not enter.25
After the birth, the Princess and her faithful Darioleta place the handsome child in the box, along with the sword of King Perion his father, and a letter saying the infant is "Amadis, the Ill-Timed" ("Amadis sin Tiempo").
This done, she [Darioleta] put the plank on top so well joined and calked that neither water nor anything else could enter there. And taking it in her arms and opening the door, she put it in the river and let it go. And as the water was high and strong it soon passed out to sea, which was not more than half a league away. (Bk. I, 36)
The strange floating object is miraculously saved: a passing ship contains a Scottish knight, Gandales, and his wife, who have just become parents:
And going at full speed on their way to Scotland, the morning being already clear, they saw the ark floating on the water; and summoning four sailors, he ordered them quickly to cast off a small boat and bring the ark to him, which was speedily done, although the ark had already floated a long distance from the ship. (36)
The Scottish knight and his wife discover the infant; the knight picks the child up, saying "This is from some good place." The wife "put it to the breast of that nurse who was rearing Gandalin, her own son." The baby thus delivered unharmed to its foster parents is called "Child of the Sea" (el Donzel del Mar).
Gulliver in Book II is always living in boxes. When Glumdalclitch attends the royal party on a tour of the coast, an accident happens at the seaside; a huge Brobdingnagian bird picks up Gulliver's box and drops it into the sea. Gulliver describes, as baby Amadis could not, the horror of being in the sea and in danger of the waves, as the tight box begins to leak a bit. It is less surprising that Gulliver's box is discovered by a passing ship than that Amadis' container is so discovered, as Gulliver's ark is so huge (a "Swimming House") in the eyes of the English sailors. But, like a baby, Gulliver is "taken into the Ship in a very weak Condition." The Captain is puzzled and "desired I would give him a Relation of my Travels, and by what Accident I came to be set adrift in that monstrous wooden Chest" (II, 118-19).
The Captain thinks of the other alternative, that Gulliver was in that box as a punishment for his crimes. But Gulliver was in the box because of his toylike innocence, the entertaining charm and helpless passivity that he had displayed, babylike in the land of the Big People (which is what children call adults). As a precious child, he has been preserved in his floating box in the sea, according to the best romantic tradition. He does come "from a good place." Unlike Amadis, he loses rather than regains the breast when he is taken aboard. He is a "Child of the Sea"—but once his box is destroyed and he has displayed all the tokens he has with him, he must consent to be adopted into normal English adult life. Unlike the hero of fiction, he will not recover the lost heritage—he can never get back to the feminine comforts and discomforts of Brobdingnag, the babyish pleasure of the company of "my dear little Nurse" (II, 99). Perhaps he is never again as close to the female sexual organs as he was then, in an infancy which placed him perilously close to the holy organs and the monstrous breast. He has lost his Motherland. Unlike Amadis (or Tom Jones, the Foundling) he cannot reclaim anything, or assert a title to something. He tries, at the end of the story, to assert his title to be considered a Horse, but this is not a title he can win by any feats. We can, however, if we wish, call him an Ass—and ourselves too.
Swift had, I believe, a very deep and long-standing knowledge of all kinds of fiction, including long works of prose fiction, or "Romances." One of the reasons Gulliver's Travels lasts so very well is that it draws upon the deep traditions of prose fiction in the West and is itself a virtuoso performance within that tradition.
1 Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, ed. Robert A. Greenberg (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1970), 37. All citations refer to this edition.
2 "Women in (religious or moral) Guides are often advised that their imaginations can become overheated if they read romances (the source of Swift's joke about maids of honor in Lilliput)…. " J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century Fiction (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1990), 265.
3 Samuel Richardson, Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady, rpt. of 3rd edition (1751), 8 volumes, in The Clarissa Project, AMS Press, 1990. The work of fiction alluded to here, usually given as Dorastus and Fawnia when not called by its chief title Pandosto, is a work of prose fiction by Robert Greene, published in 1588; it supplied the plot for Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.
4 See the Preface of 1715 to a new translation of Pierre Daniel Huet's Truité de l'origine des romans, a work first published as a preface to Mme. De La Fayette's Zaïde (1670), then issued in amplified form in French and in Latin. Stephen Lewis, the translator, remarks: "I have no great Reason to fear its being well received in English: Especially since Romance has of late convey'd it self very far into the Esteem of this Nation, and become the principal Diversion of the Retirement of People of all Conditions.
"And (tho' we have been hitherto, for the most part, supply'd with Translations from the French) it is to be hoped, that we won't any longer subsist upon Reverse: but that some English Genius will dare to Naturalize Romance into our Soil." Preface to The History of Romance, "an inquiry into their Original; Instructions for Composing them; an Account of the most Eminent Authors…. Written in Latin by Huetius, Made English by Mr. STEPHEN LEWIS" (London: J. Hooke and I. Caldecott, 1715).
5 "Dedication" to The Adventures of Theagenes and Chariclia, A Romance. Being the Rise, Progress, Tryals, and happy Success of the HEROIC LOVES of those Two illustrious Persons (London: W. Taylor, E. Curll, et al., 1717), I, xxvi.
6 Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Voyages to the Moon (New York: Macmillan, 1948).
7 Lucian of Samosata, "A True History," trans. Lionel Casson in Selected Satires of Lucian, ed. and trans. Lionel Casson (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1962), 13-54. All other references are to this version.
8 Apuleius, Metamorphoseon sive Asinus Aureus (Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass) in The Golden Ass, Loeb edition, 2 vols., ed. and trans. J. Arthur Hanson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989). Although I have consulted various translations including that in the Loeb, passages are given in my own version.
9Pensarán vuestras mercedes ahora que es poco trabajo hinchar un perro?—The meaningless performance is, Cervantes indicates, a parallel to writing:—Pensará vuestra merced ahora que es poco trabajo hacer un libro?—"Does your worship think now that it is little labor to make a book?"
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Martin de Riquer (Barcelona; Editorial Juventud, S. A., 1968), 537. All references are to this edition, with my translation unless otherwise indicated.
10 John J. Winkler, Auctor & Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius's the Golden Ass (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1985), 313-16.
11 Plutarch, de Iside, as quoted by John J. Winkler, Auctor & Actor, 314.
12 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Ian Watt (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), Bk. VII, chap, xxxii, 398-99.
13 In Giovanni Boccaccio's Filocolo (a novel written c. 1336-38), the hero after shipwreck exclaims aggrievedly: "And thou, O highest Aeolus, merciless father of Canace, temper your wrath, unjustly raised against me. Open thine eyes, and know that I am not Aeneas, the great enemy of holy Juno: I am a young man who loves, just as thou hast loved before" (my translation).
14Ibrahim, or the Illustrious Bassa. An Excellent New Romance. The Whole book. In Five Parts. Written in French by Monsieur de Scudery, and Now Englished by Henry Cogan, Gent. (London: Humphry Moseley, William Bentley & Thomas Heath, 1652). Although Monsieur de Scudéry lent his name to the title pages of the novels, the real author is generally agreed to have been his sister Madeleine de Scudéry. Ibrahim (published 1641) was one of her early novels.
15 Alexander Pope, The Dunciad Variorum, I, 1. 19; see The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), 351.
16The History of Persiles and Fayre Sigismunda (London, 1620), Bk. I, chap. 6, p. 30. All further quotations are taken from this edition. There were later translations of this novel, including Persiles and Sigismunda: A Celebrated Novel, published in 2 volumes in 1741, prefaced with an extract from Bayle's "General Historical Dictionary" in praise of the novel, concluding "Briefly, this Performance is of a better Invention, more artificial Contrivance, and of a more sublime Stile than that of Don Quixote de la Mancha."
17 Longus, Daphnis and Chloe, Loeb edition (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988) [rpt. of 1916 edition], Bk. II, chap. 6, p. 70. My translation is assisted by that supplied in the Loeb (a revision of George Thornley's translation of 1657) and by several other translations, but it is not a reproduction of any of them.
18 Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, as Tom Jones, ed. Sheridan Baker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973), 340.
19 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna. A Descriptive Tale, ed. James Franklin Beard (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1980), 23.
20 See Aphra Behn, Oroonoko: Or, The Royal Slave. With an Introduction by Lore Metzger (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1973): Oroonoko, now named "Caesar," as a slave in South America, according to the female narrator needed activity: "and though all Endeavours were us'd to exercise himself in such Actions and Sports as this World afforded, as … Killing Tygers of a monstrous size, which this Continent affords in abundance; and wonderful Snakes, such as Alexander is reported to have encounter'd at the River of Amazons, and which Caesar took great delight to overcome; yet these were not actions great enough for his large Soul, which was still panting after more renown'd Actions" (47).
This passage recaptures some of the excitements of the adventures and geography of the traditional Alexander Romance, and in doing so emphasizes resemblances between Oroonoko and Alexander. Not the least of their resemblances appears to be that both are fictional characters based on factual persons.
21The Greek Alexander Romance, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Richard Stoneman (Harmondworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1991). All further quotations refer to this edition. This is not, however, the only modern English version available. An Armenian version was translated by A. Wolohojian as The Romance of Alexander the Great, By Pseudo-Callisthenes (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1969). The Alexander Romance also appears translated by Ken Dowden in Collected Ancient Greek Novels, ed. B. P. Reardon (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1989), 650-735.
22 See Voltaire, Candide, ou l'Optimisme (1759), chap. 16; in Voltaire: Romans et Contes, ed. René Pomeau (Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1966), 211-14.
23 Heliodorus, Aithiopika, translated by John Morgan as An Ethiopian Story in Collected Ancient Greek Novels, 349-588; see p. 514.
24 For the Greek text of Heliodorus' novel I follow the dual-language version Les Éthiopiques, 3 vols., ed. R. M. Rattenbury and T. W. Lumb, trans. J. Maillon (Paris: Budé, "Les Belles Lettres," 1960). The passages here referred to are to be found in Bk. VII, chap. 12, chap. 13, chap. 17; see vol. 2: 135, 136, 142.
25 Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, Amadis of Gaul, Books I and II, translated by Edwin B. Place and Herbert C. Behm (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974), Bk. I, p. 34. All further quotations are from this translation. Quotations in Spanish are taken from Amadis de Gaula, ed. Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua, 2 vols. (Madrid: Catedra Letras Hispanicas, 1987), 1 : 246; 253.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8370
SOURCE: "The Brainwashing of Lemuel Gulliver," in The Southern Review, Vol. 32, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 128-46.
[Below, Donoghue discusses ways in which Swift challenged Enlightenment thought and mocked Locke's "tabula rasa" conception of human consciousness, and instead viewed men as destined to be "brainwashed" by ineluctable cultural, political, and social forces.]
On October 28, 1726, the London printer Benjamin Motte issued the first volume of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World by Lemuel Gulliver, "first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships." A few readers knew that the real author was Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral—"the cathedral close"—in Dublin. Presumably they took the book as a squib, a throwaway from the Dean's official life or a satire on those in power in London who had banished him to the wilderness of Dublin in 1714. The book was an immediate success: two further editions were required in 1726, two more in 1727. John Gay wrote Swift a few days after the book appeared to report that "from the highest to the lowest it is universally read, from the cabinet-council to the nursery." Some readers enjoyed it as an attack on Whiggery in general and Sir Robert Walpole in particular. Those who brought it into the nursery read it as a yarn populated by big men and little men. Viscount Bolingbroke was evidently the first reader to interpret it as an offensive book, "a design of evil consequence to depreciate human nature." This sense of the book became common twenty-five or thirty years later: that Gulliver's Travels is not, as Swift's friend Arbuthnot called it, "a pleasant humorous book," but a libel upon mankind.
It is essential to the character of Gulliver's Travels that readers should mistake it for something else that in certain respects it resembles: a serious travel book, a parody travel book, a philosophical allegory like Candide, or a vision, like More's, of Utopia. The book is a simulacrum, inserted in the space between whatever at first it may appear to be and what on second thought it may otherwise appear to be. It has lasted for 250 years, mainly because readers can't be certain they know what kind of book they're reading, even if they know that a trick of impersonation is being played on them. The book is as bizarre in its way as, in quite another way, A Tale of a Tub. Many readers have read both and decided, like the scholars in Brobdingnag who examine Gulliver, that the object of attention is relplum scalcath, or lusus naturae, a freak of nature.
The most useful preliminary description of Gulliver's Travels I have seen is Northrop Frye's account of the genre it embodies. I refer to his essay "The Four Forms of Prose Fiction," according to which the forms are novel, confession, romance, and anatomy. Most people, Frye says, would call Gulliver's Travels fiction but not a novel:
It must then be another form of fiction, as it certainly has a form, and we feel that we are turning from the novel to this form, whatever it is, when we turn from Rousseau's Emile to Voltaire's Candide, or from Butler's The Way of All Flesh to the Erewhon books, or from Huxley's Point Counterpoint to Brave New World. The form thus has its own traditions, and, as the examples of Butler and Huxley show, has preserved some integrity even under the ascendancy of the novel. Its existence is easy enough to demonstrate, and no one will challenge the statement that the literary ancestry of Gulliver's Travels and Candide runs through Rabelais and Erasmus to Lucian.
Gulliver's Travels, then, is an anatomy, as in Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, where anatomy means dissection or analysis. Frye also called it a Menippean satire, a type of fiction that "deals less with people as such than with mental attitudes" (in which respect it differs from the novel). In the anatomy, "pedants, bigots, cranks, parvenus, virtuosi, enthusiasts, rapacious and incompetent men of all kinds are handled in terms of the 'humor' or ruling passion, their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behavior." It is a feature of the anatomy that characterization is stylized rather than realistic: people are presented as mouthpieces of the ideas or notions they hold. In an anatomy the chief character is often a pedant, a lunatic of one idea. Reading Gulliver's Travels, one is bemused to find Gulliver continually doing the same thing, getting himself into the same predicament, like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. A constant theme in the anatomy, Frye remarks, is ridicule of the philosophus gloriosus; Lucian ridicules the Greek philosophers, Rabelais and Erasmus the scholastics, Swift the Cartesians and the Royal Society, Voltaire the Leibnizians, Peacock the Romantics, Samuel Butler the Darwinists, Huxley the behaviorists. The reason for this is that "while the novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, the Menippean satirist sees them as diseases of the intellect, as a kind of maddened pedantry which the philosophus gloriosus at once symbolizes and defines." The anatomy, finally, "presents us with a vision of the world in terms of a single intellectual pattern." It often achieves this pattern by imposing upon its image of life "a logical and self-consistent shift of perspective, presenting it as Lilliputian or Brobdingnagian," or by telling the story "from the point of view of an ass, a savage, or a drunk." Or else "it will take the form of a 'marvelous journey' and present a caricature of a familiar society as the logical structure of an imaginary one."
My reference to A Tale of a Tub allows me to remark that Gulliver's Travels, like the Tale, exhibits instances of irony stable and unstable, to use Wayne Booth's distinction in The Rhetoric of Irony. In stable irony we have only to make one interpretive move and we are back on solid ground. When Gulliver offers to make cannon-guns and explosives for use by the King of Brobdingnag, we have only to make one move to see that Gulliver and the European civilization for which he speaks are being reflected on. But the irony in Gulliver's Travels is often unstable: after one interpretive move we find ourselves still on shifting sands, as in the voyage to the Houyhnhnms. In stable irony there is always an imaginary point from which the world can be viewed in its entirety; in unstable irony there is no such point. Instead there is a sequence of equivocation that we bring to an end only arbitrarily, when we have had as much equivocation as we can bear. Nor is the irony Kierkegaardian, that is, propelled by the ironist's desire to feel free, to enjoy the freedom of having no motive other than that enjoyment. We have no such impression of Gulliver's Travels. Swift's irony in that book is local, opportunistic, and irregular. You may call it negative if, like F. R. Leavis, you construe the book as sustained by no system of values (unlike, say, Pope's Dunciad). If, reading the Tale, you are not happy with the serene and peaceful possession of being well deceived, you may choose to be undeceived, with no greater boon of happiness.
It is generally held that the mischief of Gulliver's Travels is postponed till the fourth voyage and Gulliver's encounters with the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. In fact, the mischief begins with Swift's presentation of Gulliver himself. When writers of fiction establish first-person narration, they usually give their narrators enough capacity to understand their experiences or the events they witness: not necessarily every capacity, but enough to report on events. Some writers, notably Henry James, can't bear to have their stories told by an idiot, a fool, or a villain. James knew that such people exist, and must be acknowledged in fiction, but he didn't think they should have the responsibility of delivering the main issues or of being the chief personages of the fiction. He wondered about Fielding's procedure in Tom Jones, and only reluctantly came to think it was acceptable: the gist of his acceptance was that while Tom hasn't a brain in his head, Fielding has enough brains for both of them. But in Gulliver's Travels, while Gulliver is neither idiot, fool, nor villain, he is barely qualified to take the force and point of his experience. He is given some competence in navigation and the rudiments of medicine, but he can deal with experience only when it comes in a form he can count or measure. Swift has created in Gulliver one of the most memorable characters in fiction by giving him virtually no character at all, no imagination, no depth of feeling, no resources of inner life beyond the attributes of a hack reporter on a local newspaper. He has no sense of anything beneath the visible surface, no powers of divination, and no inkling of the need for such powers.
We generally assume that each of us sees the world from his or her own point of view. It would be distressing if we found that our sense of the world differed fundamentally from everyone else's. We take it for granted that our perceptions don't differ drastically from those of most other people, and we practice the domestic economy of assuming the world is, by and large, as we see it: we make for ourselves a picture, a rudimentary diagram, and we act upon that. When we say Gulliver has no imagination, we also mean that he doesn't feel the lack or the need of it; he is too busy reporting events as if they had only to be reckoned, weighed, and counted. He thrives—or at least gets along—on the penury of his interests.
So readers must take an unusually active part in constructing the book. We can't take Gulliver's as the true last word on any subject, though as the first word we feel compelled to rely on it. In matters of judgment, discrimination, the relation between one thing and another, readers have to do most of the work for themselves. Gulliver has merely indicated that there is work to be done; he reports the occasions that call for judgment. Again a contrast with James is appropriate. When we read, say, The Ambassadors, we find that our main task is to keep up with Lambert Strether, rising to his occasions of perception and divination. We have to think and feel with him up and down and all around the town. In the end we may decide that he's not an impeccable interpreter of the events, and that we are justified in trying to go beyond him or think aside from him. But in Gulliver's Travels we start with a conviction that Gulliver's sense of life differs from ours and is palpably inadequate to the reality it negotiates.
Swift sends Gulliver voyaging into several remote nations of the world, and he gives him an absurdly meager supply of qualifications. He is allowed to bring along only the attributes normally found adequate in a settled society—a simple frame of reference, modest expectations, and the disposition of a practical man. We begin to suspect that Gulliver is as he is not because God made him so but because England made him so. If there is an English tradition in politics, education, and morality, it is inscribed in him: it discloses itself in a sense of life that settles comfortably upon its constraints and regards as folly and vanity any interests that range beyond a narrow circle. To put the situation in a phrase: Gulliver has been brainwashed to become what he is. England has made him, written a program beyond which he does not stray. His duty coincides with his inclination: to station himself in front of events and report them in direct prose. Someone else, the reader, must act upon the information that Gulliver supplies. The comedy arises from the fact that a mind programmed to observe nothing more than the ordinary daily events in England is found bringing its limited attributes to bear upon situations inordinate and bizarre. Trained to observe certain constituents of experience, Gulliver's mind has never been instructed in the art of dealing with monsters.
When I say that England made Lemuel Gulliver, I mean to disagree with Terry Eagleton's claim, in Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, that Gulliver's Travels is about Ireland. According to Eagleton, Gulliver is "an appropriate figure for an Ascendancy which was both colonized and colonialist." I can't read the book that way. Its subject seems to me the susceptibility of the human mind to the experience it happens to undergo; Gulliver's Travels denotes the conditions, mostly demeaning, under which the mind somehow manages to persist. Samuel Johnson said of the book: "When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest." It's not at all easy. Or rather: that isn't what's going on. Swift's real achievement is to attract into the orbit of big men and little men a mind somehow capable of surviving experience without understanding it. In the end, Swift darkens the comedy by showing the same mind succumbing to its experience and nearly dying in the event.
In the first three voyages, the humor is fairly simple: it is the comedy of disproportion, which arises from the differences between ends and means, essence and existence, absolutes and relativities, big men and little men, Big Enders and Little Enders, steady states and floating islands. There is little evidence of Gulliver's being brainwashed in Lilliput; for good reason, because he is a giant among these tiny people. It is part of the rhetoric of the book that one is to be impressed by big people and to despise little people. Whenever such words as "little" and "diminutive" appear, they arouse contempt for the people to whom they refer. But in one respect the brainwashing begins in Lilliput: Gulliver adopts the grandiloquent style of address so prevalent there. When he prevents war between Lilliput and Blefuscu by pulling the ships out of the Blefuscu harbor, he addresses the ruler of Lilliput in a loud voice: "Long live the most puissant Emperor of Lilliput!" When he is leaving, and the emperor and his family come out to say good-bye, Gulliver reports that "I lay on the Ground to kiss his Majesty's and the Empress's hand."
But the rhythm of brainwashing gets started in the second voyage: appropriately, because Gulliver is now the diminutive one. When the King of Brobdingnag has listened for a while to Gulliver's account of life in England, he "observed, how contemptible a Thing was human Grandeur, which could be mimicked by such diminutive Insects as I." Gulliver is inclined to take offense, but on second thought not:
But, as I was not in a Condition to resent Injuries, so, upon mature Thoughts, I began to doubt whether I were injured or no. For, after having been accustomed several Months to the Sight and Converse of this People, and observed every Object upon which I cast mine Eyes, to be of proportionable Magnitude; the Horror I had first conceived from their Bulk and Aspect was so far worn off, that if I had then beheld a Company of English Lords and Ladies in their Finery and Birth-day Cloaths, acting their several Parts in the most courtly Manner of Strutting, and Bowing and Prating; to say the Truth, I should have been strongly tempted to laugh as much at them as this King and his Grandees did at me. Neither indeed could I forbear smiling at my self, when the Queen used to place me upon her Hand towards a Looking-Glass, by which both our Persons appeared before me in full View together; and there could nothing be more ridiculous than the Comparison: So that I really began to imagine my self dwindled many Degrees below my usual Size.
Gulliver is not in a position to resent injuries, so he becomes accustomed to not resenting them. Behaviorism is at work. He starts doubting whether he has cause of resentment. He has begun—as Hermia says in A Midsummer Night's Dream—to "choose love by another's eyes." The queen's eyes, for the time being. She keeps a dwarf for her amusement:
Nothing angred and mortified me so much as the Queen's Dwarf, who being of the lowest Stature that was ever in that Country, (for I verily think he was not full Thirty Foot high) became so insolent at seeing a Creature so much beneath him, that he would always affect to swagger and look big as he passed by me in the Queen's Antichamber, while I was standing on some Table talking with the Lords or Ladies of the Court; and he seldom failed of a smart Word or two upon my Littleness; against which I could only revenge my self by calling him Brother, challenging him to wrestle; and such Repartees as are usual in the Mouths of Court Pages. One Day at Dinner, this malicious little Cubb was so nettled with something I had said to him, that raising himself upon the Frame of her Majesty's Chair, he took me up by the Middle, as I was sitting down, not thinking any Harm, and let me drop into a large Silver Bowl of Cream; and then ran away as fast as he could.
Here the ironies persist, but virtually every phrase sends them off in a different direction. Choosing derision by another's eyes, Gulliver affects to despise the dwarf—"of the lowest Stature that was ever in that Country." But the idiom he uses is the "repartee" of court pages: "affect to swagger and look big." Gulliver hardly glances at his own posture—"while I was standing on some Table talking with the Lords or Ladies of the Court"—the word "some" enhancing the sense of inattention. The malice of "this malicious little Cubb" is already prepared for by the force of "dwindled," "diminished," and other such words in earlier passages. The full effect is realized by associating the affected dwarf with the English ladies in their strutting, bowing, and prating.
Forty pages later, when Gulliver has left Brobdingnag and is rescued by the ship, he tells the captain that when he first saw the sailors, he thought them "the most little contemptible Creatures I had ever beheld": "For, indeed, while I was in that Prince's Country, I could never endure to look in a Glass after my Eyes had been accustomed to such prodigious Objects; because the Comparison gave me so despicable a Conceit of my self." In Brobdingnag, Gulliver accepts the local system of values so readily that when he goes to see the chief temple, the tower reckoned "the highest in the Kingdom," he comes back disappointed: it is hardly more than three thousand feet high.
But the most thorough brainwashing takes place in the fourth voyage. Gulliver sees the Yahoos and thinks them hideous brutes; he is still an Englishman. But after a while he comes to see himself as very like a Yahoo, different only because he wears clothes; they run about naked. The apprehension of resemblance makes him loathe the Yahoos even more, presumably because it forces him to see his own nature in a hideous form. When he meets the whinnying horses, he finds them impressively reasonable, and they think him a Yahoo, though notably teachable for such a brute. However, the Houyhnhnms soon decide that while Gulliver's learning ability is good for a Yahoo, and while his personal habits are cleaner than one would expect, in every other respect he is inferior to the rest of his kind.
Gulliver doesn't defend himself against these comparisons: gradually, he is brainwashed enough to find them convincing. Chapter Seven begins:
The Reader may be disposed to wonder how I could prevail on my self to give so free a Representation of my own Species, among a Race of Mortals who were already too apt to conceive the vilest Opinion of Human Kind, from that entire Congruity betwixt me and their Yahoos. But I must freely confess, that the many Virtues of those excellent Quadrupeds placed in opposite View to human Corruptions, had so far opened mine Eyes, and enlarged my Understanding, that I began to view the Actions and Passions of Man in a very different Light; and to think the Honour of my own Kind not worth managing; which, besides, it was impossible for me to do before a Person of so acute a Judgment as my Master, who daily convinced me of a thousand Faults in my self, whereof I had not the least Perception before, and which with us would never be numbered even among human Infirmities. I had likewise learned from his Example an utter Detestation of all Falsehood or Disguise; and Truth appeared so amiable to me, that I determined upon sacrificing every thing to it.
Gulliver comes to accept the Houyhnhnm view of things, at whatever cost of his self-esteem. He agrees, for instance, that a being whose eyes are placed directly in front, one on each side of his nose and each directed forward, can't look far on either side without turning his head: a disability from which your true Yahoo is exempt. Gulliver admits the point of these comparisons. A mind already brainwashed by the England that made him is ready to be brainwashed again by his new masters, the Houyhnhnms. Appropriately, the first sign of this process is that Gulliver comes to think the English language "barbarous" by comparison with the language of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms don't accept Gulliver as a rational animal; rather, they speak of "those appearances of reason" in him, and decide that instead of being a rational creature he has merely been taught to imitate one:
He added, how I had endeavoured to persuade him, that in my own and other Countries the Yahoos acted as the governing, rational Animal, and held the Houyhnhnms in Servitude: That, he observed in me all the Qualities of a Yahoo, only a little more civilized by some Tincture of Reason; which however was in a Degree as far inferior to the Houyhnhnm Race, as the Yahoos of their Country were to me.
When a further comparison arises between Gulliver and the Yahoos, the Houyhnhnms conclude that the comparison works against him. After Gulliver has given his master a full account of human life in England, his master says that "when a Creature pretending to Reason could be capable of such Enormities, he dreaded, lest the Corruption of that Faculty might be worse than Brutality itself." He seemed therefore confident, Gulliver reports, "that instead of Reason, we were only possessed of some Quality fitted to increase our natural Vices." When a young female Yahoo attempts a sexual assault on the naked Gulliver, he has to accept the obvious conclusion: "For now I could no longer deny, that I was a real Yahoo, in every Limb and Feature, since the Females had a natural Propensity to me as one of their own Species."
A few pages later Gulliver thinks to himself: "For, supposing I should escape with Life by some strange Adventure, how could I think with Temper, of passing my Days among Yahoos, and relapsing into my old Corruptions, for want of Examples to lead and keep me within the Paths of Virtue." Before he has spent a year with the Houyhnhnms, he has contracted, he says, "such a Love and Veneration for the Inhabitants, that I entered on a firm Resolution never to return to human Kind, but to pass the rest of my Life among these admirable Houyhnhnms in the Contemplation and Prac tice of every Virtue; where I could have no Example or Incitement to Vice." After a while, Gulliver comes to think it wonderful that these whinnying horses would condescend to distinguish him from the rest of his species, the Yahoos, and he can't bear to look at the reflection of his body in a lake. He begins to imitate the trotting of the horses and to speak in a whinnying voice. Compelled to leave the country of the Houyhnhnms, he prostrates himself to kiss his master's foot, and thinks it wonderful that his master does him the honour of raising the hoof to his mouth. When it looks as if he will be rescued by a passing ship, Gulliver sails off in another direction, choosing, as he says, to live with barbarians rather than with European Yahoos. When he is befriended by the Portuguese Captain Don Pedro de Mendez, Gulliver concludes that he should descend to treat him "like an Animal which had some little Portion of Reason." Brought to Lisbon, Gulliver can walk the street only if his nose is "well stopped with Rue, or sometimes with Tobacco." When the captain offers to give him his best suit of clothes, Gulliver declines the offer, "abhorring to cover myself with any thing that had been on the Back of a Yahoo": "I only desired he would lend me two clean Shirts, which having been washed since he wore them, I believed would not so much defile me. These I changed every second Day, and washed them myself."
Restored to his home, Gulliver finds himself loathing the sight of his family:
My Wife and Family received me with great Surprize and Joy, because they concluded me certainly dead; but I must freely confess, the Sight of them filled me only with Hatred, Disgust and Contempt; and the more, by reflecting on the near Alliance I had to them. For, although since my unfortunate Exile from the Houyhnhnm Country, I had compelled myself to tolerate the Sight of Yahoos, and to converse with Don Pedro de Mendez; yet my Memory and Imaginations were perpetually filled with the Virtues and Ideas of those exalted Houyhnhnms. And when I began to consider, that by copulating with one of the Yahoo-Species, I had become a Parent of more, it struck me with the utmost Shame, Confusion and Horror.
As soon as Gulliver entered his home, he reports, "my Wife took me in her Arms, and kissed me; at which, having not been used to the Touch of that odious Animal for so many Years, I fell in a Swoon for almost an Hour." His favorite company in England is that of two horses and their groom, "for I feel my Spirits revived by the Smell he contracts in the Stable." Gradually, the effects wear off: the next phase of brainwashing begins. By the end of the book, Gulliver is becoming an Englishman again, though he will remain for a long time incensed by his countrymen's vanity and pride: "And although it be hard for a Man late in Life to remove old Habits, I am not altogether out of Hopes in some Time to suffer a Neighbour Yahoo in my Company, without the Apprehensions I am yet under of his Teeth or his Claws."
There are two overlapping contexts in which brainwashing in Gulliver's Travels may be considered. So far as the violence is directed against someone's mind, the first context is epistemological, and the philosophy referred to in all but words is Locke's. I agree with those who hold that Swift had little or no interest in philosophy, and that the third voyage shows how ready he was to make fun of intellectual pursuits. Quite so. But he was interested in religion and in politics, and he liked to think he knew what he was saying in sermons and pamphlets. He needed to have some notion of knowledge: that is all I am concerned to assume. I would be surprised to find him speculating, beyond local need, on the character of a sense-datum.
In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke argues that the mind, to begin with, is a blank page waiting to be written upon, a tabula rasa. The first stage in the mind's development is a sensory event: adverting to an external object or action, the mind responds with certain sensations. The only other capacity the mind has is that of reflecting upon those sensations and, finally, upon its own processes. Every word of what I have just said would need to be explicated if I were a professional philosopher, or if Swift were; no such necessity arises now. My few rudimentary sentences indicate that Locke regarded as the basic materials of knowledge, and why in their possession the mind has no choice. "In this Part," Locke writes, "the understanding is meerly passive; and whether or no, it will have these Beginnings, and as it were materials of Knowledge, is not in its own Power." Against Descartes, Cudworth, and many others, Locke insists that there are no "innate notions," as he calls them in the first book of the Essay. He maintains that if there were innate notions, an infant would be born with the idea of God and the conviction that God is to be worshipped. From the child's lack of such an inborn faith, innate ideas do not exist.
Not that Locke's position on that matter was decisive. Leibniz attacked it, for instance, on the ground that it is impossible to construct knowledge from zero—the tabula rasa—and the exterior world. Contingent understanding, Leibniz argued, never builds from zero. Locke's "savage," the figure he posited as the zero point of knowledge, is not (in Leibniz's view) a mere form waiting to be written on, but rather a figure of decadence: savages are not primitives but men who have forgotten the primitive.
I should note, however, that the main reason for Locke's opposition to innate ideas was political or civic rather than epistemological: he saw that those who believed in innate ideas also claimed the right to say what those ideas were and to impose them upon others.
Nor is it a small power it gives one Man over another, to have the Authority to be the Dictator of Principles, and Teacher of unquestionable Truths; and to make a Man swallow that for an innate Principle, which may serve to his purpose, who teacheth them.
It was for political reasons, therefore, that Locke attacked the assumption that there are innate ideas. Toleration was more important to him than any other consideration. In the Letter to a Young Clergyman, some scholars have found Swift criticizing Locke for his stand against inborn principles. The criticism seems to me clearer in the sermon "On the Testimony of Conscience," where Swift defines conscience as "that Knowledge which a Man hath within himself of his own Thoughts and Actions." God, he says, "hath placed Conscience in us to be our Director only in those Actions which Scripture and Reason plainly tell us to be good or evil." Clearly if God placed conscience in us, it is innate. But nothing in Locke's account of sensation and reflection allows for such a moral sense. In Swift's view the denial of conscience as an innate power would undermine religion.
Locke refused to give credence to innate ideas, but he had no hesitation in saying that there are capacities indigenous to humankind: specifically the powers of sensory perception and of reflection. These would assure that you could act in certain ways, but they wouldn't compel you to act in any particular way. Nor would they establish a moral propensity. But Locke recognized an acute problem in the chapter on the "Association of Ideas." His aim was to take the control of our thinking away from passion or any extrinsic authority and to allow us to think for ourselves and take responsibility for our actions. We are to step aside from our spontaneous interests and try to understand our processes of thinking. The mind, according to Locke, has "a power to suspend the execution of any of its desires; and so all, one after another; is at liberty to consider the objects of them, examine them on all sides, and weigh them with others." So Locke included in the power of reflection what we normally call "will." In that respect one's thinking should be a declaration of independence. But in the "Association of Ideas" chapter he meets the difficulty of distinguishing between associations that form customs—which are good—and those that form habits—which are bad. He refers at one point to "the Empire of Habit." Clearly, Locke thinks associations of ideas that set up habits are the very definition of madness; for one thing, they veto the act of reflection by preventing the mind from feeling inclined to it. Hans Aarsleff has noted, in From Locke to Saussure, that Locke didn't work out this problem; he left to Condillac's Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge (1746) the development of the premise that the association of ideas was innate, or might be.
My contention, then, is that one of the aims of Gulliver's Travels is to make dark fun of Locke's epistemology: to show how vulnerable the mind is if it has no capacities but those of sensation and reflection, if its life begins with external events and objects and depends entirely upon them. Gulliver is a parody of Locke's empiricism, an epistemology that assumes the mind is a faculty capable of two and only two acts—perception and reflection. In the extreme version of empiricism called naturalism, the mind is the slave of its contents. That is what Yeats had in view, I assume, when he wrote
Locke sank into a swoon,
The garden died,
God took the spinning jenny
Out of his side.
The swoon is passivity: the mind, in Locke's account of it, depends upon the contingency of its sensations. Yeats thought that Pound and Joyce capitulated to this wretched assumption. Swift feared that Locke might be right, and he dealt with his fear by parodying it. Assume Locke is right: then if you change the things a mind encounters, you change the mind. This is brainwashing, in effect. Swift is demonstrating in Gulliver what Locke's empire of habit comes to, formed by enforced associations of ideas. Such an imperial force thwarts the act of reflection, upon which Locke's philosophy relies. Swift's position is like the one La Fontaine ironically embodied in the fable of the wolf and the lamb: "The reason of the Stronger is always the best."
The second context also involves Locke, but this time the issue is moral philosophy rather than epistemology. Charles Taylor has outlined the situation very clearly in his Sources of the Self (1989), so I will do little more than give the gist of the dispute in his terms. In Swift's time there were two relevant traditions in moral and political philosophy. One was represented by Hobbes and Locke: it expressed a naturalistic transposition of the doctrine of original sin. According to this tradition, God's law is doubly external to us as fallen creatures: first, because we cannot identify the good with the bent of our own natures; and second, because the law of God—if we could discover what it is—runs against the grain of our depraved wills. We cannot, therefore, deduce a morality from the natural world, so we are well advised to regard nature as neutral. All we can do is be as self-aware as possible and act responsibly under the auspices of tolerance. The other tradition of moral philosophy is represented by the Cambridge Platonists—especially Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote, and John Smith. They saw human beings as intrinsically attuned to God, and hence spoke freely of our "inward Nature," according to which we are in harmony with the nature of the universe. This philosophy of benevolence was clear enough in Bolingbroke and Pope, but it was most fully articulated by Shaftesbury and by Francis Hutcheson. "I must love whatever happens," Shaftesbury says in his Philosophic Regimen, "and see it all as fitted to me and orderly with respect to the whole, even 'the sack of cities and the ruin of mankind.'" Where Locke found the source of morality in the dignity of a disengaged subject confronting a neutral nature, Shaftesbury ascribed it to the benevolent soul participating in the harmony of the universe. His crucial phrase is "natural affection," by which he means the sentiment that prompts us to love the whole world and everyone in it. Taylor refers to Shaftesbury's internalization of a teleological ethic of nature, and to his transformation of the appearances of harmony, order, and equilibrium into an ethic of benevolence. Hutcheson developed this moral philosophy further in his Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. Clearly he had Locke in his sights, and he undertook to attack the assumption, common to Hobbes, Locke, and La Rochefoucauld, that the distinction between good and bad is founded upon self-love, self-interest, and nothing else. Hutcheson's first act in this dispute is to posit in each of us a moral sense. "Some actions have to men an immediate goodness," he says, and by immediate he means innately delivered, not the result of reflection and training. Taylor notes that this is a risky assumption, especially as Hutcheson acknowledges that God could have given us a wholly different moral sense, or none at all. The fact that God gave us the particular moral sense we have is one of Hutcheson's proofs of His benign providence, but he doesn't see that he has opened the door wide to relativism. It is hard to claim at once that our moral sense is primordially given by God, and that God in His absolute freedom could have made a different choice.
In his Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections, Hutcheson renews his attack on Locke and the skeptical or misanthropic tradition in moral philosophy. Some people, he says, might think the passions "too subtile for common Apprehension, and consequently not necessary for the instruction of Men in Morals, which are the common business of Mankind." But in fact certain notions about the passions are already current "to the great Detriment of many a Natural Temper; since many have been discourag'd from all Attempts of cultivating kind generous Affections in themselves, by a previous Notion that there are no such Affections in Nature, and that all Pretence to them was only Dissimulation, Affection, or at best some unnatural Enthusiasm."
On the question of moral philosophy—but not of epistemology—Swift is of Locke's party, except that he gives far greater allowance to revelation and conscience than Locke did. His general sense of human life in its moral bearing puts him with Hobbes, Mandeville, and La Rochefoucauld in his belief that moral and social life are mainly propelled by self-love. The only mitigations of this dark vision that Swift is willing to concede are religion and the plain decencies of friendship and common sense. His religion was that of the Church of Ireland, unexactingly interpreted; but it was not merely a matter of morals. Faith was crucial, though Swift gave a rather prosaic account of it and cheerfully set aside the hard theological mysteries. "By God's great mercy," he said with evident relief, "those difficult Points [of Divinity] are never of absolute necessity to our salvation." Swift thought the Christianity of Anglicanism a good enough basis for personal and social life, but he was not theologically insistent beyond the basic articles of faith and practice. As for the decencies: his moral philosophy was mostly negative and pessimistic, but he allowed for exceptional instances of merit. Taylor says of Locke that in his philosophy we take our place in the order of nature and society through the exercise of disengaged reason. As I have suggested, Swift thought this a risky position to adopt, because the mind is appallingly susceptible to what it happens to encounter. But I think Swift's relation to the tradition of benevolence, as in Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, was severe if not dismissive: it is clear from his presentation of the Houyhnhnms, who live as if every virtue were innate, a practice that enchants Gulliver, though it hardly adds up to life at all. Was it F. R. Leavis who said that if the Houyhnhnms have all the virtue, the Yahoos have all the life?
I have said that brainwashing embodies the belief that "the reason of the Stronger is always the best." The Oxford English Dictionary defines brainwashing as "the systematic and often forcible elimination from a person's mind of all established ideas, especially political ideas, so that another set may take their place." The earliest recorded use of the word dates from 1950, early in the "Cold War," a time we associate with the trial of Cardinal Stepinac and the publication of Richard Condon's novel of brainwashing, The Manchurian Candidate (1959). More recently we have seen the case of Patty Hearst, which featured brainwashing (at least in its early stages). The great dictionary also says that brainwashing is "a kind of coercive conversion practised by certain totalitarian states on political dissidents."
But the degree of coercion required in each case depends upon the degree of resistance offered. The U-2 pilot Gary Powers didn't offer as much as Cardinal Stepinac. Gulliver offers little or no resistance. Nothing about him is more revealing than his willingness to have his brain washed by new masters. If the book appeals to our sense of humor and to our sense of discrepancy and disproportion, it touches us also in our sense of imprisonment—not necessarily imprisonment in a concentration camp, but in any imposed system of ideas and values. In those conditions the enforced system becomes our second nature and determines our fate. In his book on Proust, Beckett says that habit has this effect; it becomes our second nature and prevents us from seeing our first.
Any system can become our prison: a tradition we have inherited, a style we have adopted, an official terminology that tells us what to think. These days we often refer to it as ideology, a system of enforced assumptions within which most things go "without saying" by appearing to "stand to reason." Gulliver's Travels is only superficially about big men and little men: it is really about entrapment; and the most disturbing episode in the book deals with the struldbruggs, those people in Luggnagg who are immortal in the appalling sense that they get older and older but can't die. That is: they can't leave the system. Nor can Gulliver, until circumstances allow him to escape. As long as he is inside the system, he doesn't bring any irony to bear upon it. Irony is the counterforce to brainwashing: it brings to bear upon a given system values antithetical to those in place; it holds out against the system's blandishments. Gulliver doesn't. That is shown with particular clarity in a passage in the fourth voyage where he describes the certitude of reasoning among the Houyhnhnms:
As these noble Houyhnhnms are endowed by Nature with a general Disposition to all Virtues, and have no Conceptions or Ideas of what is evil in a rational Creature; so their grand Maxim is, to cultivate Reason, and to be wholly governed by it. Neither is Reason among them a Point problematical as with us, where Men can argue with Plausibility on both Sides of a Question; but strikes you with immediate Conviction; as it must needs do where it is not mingled, obscured, or discoloured by Passion and Interest. I remember it was with extreme Difficulty that I could bring my Master to understand the Meaning of the word Opinion, or how a Point could be disputable; because Reason taught us to affirm or deny only where we are certain; and beyond our Knowledge we cannot do either. So that Controversies, Wranglings, Disputes, and Positiveness in false or dubious Propositions, are Evils unknown among the Houyhnhnms.
It may be said that the irony here is turned upon the Houyhnhnms, who have such a boring life of certitude that there is nothing to be discussed or questioned. But the sentence about "Controversies, Wranglings, Disputes, and Positiveness" doesn't offer a value to be set against the blankness of intellectual and moral life among the Houyhnhnms. Swift's hatred of such faction-fighting is clear. Gulliver can't stand apart from his local experience to the extent of imagining what the proper form of reasoning might be. Swift appears to be saying that if you send the human mind into the world without the benefit of revelation, religious belief, and an innate conscience, it will succumb to every authority it meets.
There is a passage in Andrei Sinyavsky's A Voice from the Chorus in which the Russian writer, imprisoned in Lefortovo in 1966, recalls certain books he read as a child, among them Gulliver's Travels. Sinyavsky makes the point that Gulliver is well fitted to represent mankind in general, precisely because he has no personality, no permanent qualities: everything depends upon the circumstances in which he is placed. As Sinyavsky has it: "[H]e is short or tall, clean or unclean only by comparison; he is a man by comparison and a non-man by comparison. He is a giant among Lilliputians, a Lilliputian among giants, an animal among the houyhnhnms, a horse among men." Sinyavsky thinks Swift is saying that man is a fiction, a sham. But there is another way of phrasing the conclusion. Man is a function of his environment, trapped in a structure that determines him so long as it holds him there. The only escape is into another structure, where the brainwashing begins all over again, but this time according to a different, though equally arbitrary, set of ideas and principles. The grim comedy of Gulliver's Travels arises from the discrepancy between our vaguely acquired sense of what it means to be human and our more pressing fear that "being human" depends—more than we are to realize—upon favorable local circumstances. When circumstances change, being human is the last thing we can be assured of being. Gulliver's Travels has become a dauntingly "modern" book again in the past thirty or forty years because it presents as fiction what many people are worried about as fact.
These worries are provided by ideas of mind and society. Marx said that "social existence determines consciousness," but he allowed for a dynamic relation between mind and environment. One of the major axioms of structuralism went far beyond Marx to say that we are determined by the codes we have been given. We don't hear much of structuralism these days, but none of its successors has claimed that the human mind is in any respect autonomous. It is now regularly assumed that reality and knowledge are socially constructed and that sociologists of knowledge are equipped to understand the processes of this construction. In The Social Construction of Reality (1966), Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann define "reality" as "a quality appertaining to phenomena that we recognize as having a being independent of our own volition (we cannot 'wish them away')"; and they define "knowledge" as "the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics." This is old-style positivism translated into sociology: it allows no place for metaphysical, religious, or visionary values. More to the point, it hands over to "society," by which Berger and Luckmann appear to mean the accredited institutions that happen to be in place at this moment, the right to decide what constitutes knowledge in any particular. I don't see how this sociology of knowledge differs from the brainwashing I've been describing in Gulliver's Travels.
Gulliver's Travels touches upon another issue, close to the one I've just described but perhaps distinguishable from it because it adverts to the possibility that man may not be the son of God but identical with something he resembles—an artifact, a machine, a gadget made like any other to perform a few simple operations. Hugh Kenner has examined this motif in The Counterfeiters, which he subtitles An Historical Comedy, presumably because one source of comedy, according to Bergson, is a sense of discrepancy between axioms of life as organism and appearances of life as gadgetry. The optimistic answer to this sense of discrepancy is the assertion that if man is a machine, he is a machine with a difference, and that this difference makes all the difference. We say, for instance, that man is an animal with the further distinguishing power of reason or symbolic action: he can reflect upon his experience and represent it in symbolic terms. If we think the difference exhilarating, we conclude that man's perfection in his kind enables him to transcend his kind: he is not a mere animal at all. This optimism depends upon our emphasizing in man's favor a spiritual dimension, a particular quality or aura, that makes men and women what they are.
Gulliver's Travels incites us to think or to fear that this optimism is false, that the x-factor is a delusion, merely yet another manifestation of pride. Hazlitt said that Swift took a new view of human nature, "such as a being of a higher sphere might take of it." Precisely: because it is a matter of perspective. Swift presents in Gulliver a man bereft of spiritual radiance; he is merely the sum of his attributes, and these are few. He is someone to whom certain things happen. This is Swift's main satiric device: to present every ostensibly spiritual quality in a material form, reducing qualities to quantities. And if an optimistic reader declares that man is more than the sum of a few attributes, Swift accepts the challenge. We can almost hear him say, "Prove it."
In the end, Gulliver is restored to himself. But what is the self to which he is restored? Is it that of the true-born Englishman, the ideologically propelled figure projected after the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution by an England desperately anxious to avoid another civil war and the execution of another king? Something like that. Gulliver is an empiricist without memory or the need of it, a man restored to sanity who does not know that he has been mad. He is as close as possible to being "a man without qualities."