History of Literature

Jonathan Swift

"Gulliver`s Travels"


Jonathan Swift


Jonathan Swift

Irish author and clergyman
pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff

born Nov. 30, 1667, Dublin, Ire.
died Oct. 19, 1745, Dublin

Anglo-Irish author, who was the foremost prose satirist in the English language. Besides the celebrated novel Gulliver’s Travels (1726), he wrote such shorter works as A Tale of a Tub (1704) and A Modest Proposal (1729).

Early life and education
Swift’s father, Jonathan Swift the elder, was an Englishman who had settled in Ireland after the Stuart Restoration (1660) and become steward of the King’s Inns, Dublin. In 1664 he married Abigail Erick, who was the daughter of an English clergyman. In the spring of 1667 Jonathan the elder died suddenly, leaving his wife, baby daughter, and an unborn son to the care of his brothers. The younger Jonathan Swift thus grew up fatherless and dependent on the generosity of his uncles. His education was not neglected, however, and at the age of six he was sent to Kilkenny School, then the best in Ireland. In 1682 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he was granted his bachelor of arts degree in February 1686 speciali gratia (“by special favour”), his degree being a device often used when a student’s record failed, in some minor respect, to conform to the regulations.

Swift continued in residence at Trinity College as a candidate for his master of arts degree until February 1689. But the Roman Catholic disorders that had begun to spread through Dublin after the Glorious Revolution (1688–89) in Protestant England caused Swift to seek security in England, and he soon became a member of the household of a distant relative of his mother named Sir William Temple, at Moor Park, Surrey. Swift was to remain at Moor Park intermittently until Temple’s death in 1699.

Years at Moor Park
Temple was engaged in writing his memoirs and preparing some of his essays for publication, and he had Swift act as a kind of secretary. During his residence at Moor Park, Swift twice returned to Ireland, and during the second of these visits, he took orders in the Anglican church, being ordained priest in January 1695. At the end of the same month he was appointed vicar of Kilroot, near Belfast. Swift came to intellectual maturity at Moor Park, with Temple’s rich library at his disposal. Here, too, he met Esther Johnson (the future Stella), the daughter of Temple’s widowed housekeeper. In 1692, through Temple’s good offices, Swift received the degree of M.A. at the University of Oxford.

Between 1691 and 1694 Swift wrote a number of poems, notably six odes. But his true genius did not find expression until he turned from verse to prose satire and composed, mostly at Moor Park between 1696 and 1699, A Tale of a Tub, one of his major works. Published anonymously in 1704, this work was made up of three associated pieces: the Tale itself, a satire against “the numerous and gross corruptions in religion and learning”; the mock-heroic Battle of the Books; and the Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, which ridiculed the manner of worship and preaching of religious enthusiasts at that period. In the Battle of the Books, Swift supports the ancients in the longstanding dispute about the relative merits of ancient versus modern literature and culture. But A Tale of a Tub is the most impressive of the three compositions. This work is outstanding for its exuberance of satiric wit and energy and is marked by an incomparable command of stylistic effects, largely in the nature of parody. Swift saw the realm of culture and literature threatened by zealous pedantry, while religion—which for him meant rational Anglicanism—suffered attack from both Roman Catholicism and the Nonconformist (Dissenting) churches. In the Tale he proceeded to trace all these dangers to a single source: the irrationalities that disturb man’s highest faculties—reason and common sense.

Career as satirist, political journalist, and churchman
After Temple’s death in 1699, Swift returned to Dublin as chaplain and secretary to the earl of Berkeley, who was then going to Ireland as a lord justice. During the ensuing years he was in England on some four occasions—in 1701, 1702, 1703, and 1707 to 1709—and won wide recognition in London for his intelligence and his wit as a writer. He had resigned his position as vicar of Kilroot, but early in 1700 he was preferred to several posts in the Irish church. His public writings of this period show that he kept in close touch with affairs in both Ireland and England. Among them is the essay Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions between the Nobles and the Commons in Athens and Rome, in which Swift defended the English constitutional balance of power between the monarchy and the two houses of Parliament as a bulwark against tyranny. In London he became increasingly well known through several works: his religious and political essays; A Tale of a Tub; and certain impish works, including the “Bickerstaff” pamphlets of 1708–09, which put an end to the career of John Partridge, a popular astrologer, by first prophesying his death and then describing it in circumstantial detail. Like all Swift’s satirical works, these pamphlets were published anonymously and were exercises in impersonation. Their supposed author was “Isaac Bickerstaff.” For many of the first readers, the very authorship of the satires was a matter for puzzle and speculation. Swift’s works brought him to the attention of a circle of Whig writers led by Joseph Addison, but Swift was uneasy about many policies of the Whig administration. He was a Whig by birth, education, and political principle, but he was also passionately loyal to the Anglican church, and he came to view with apprehension the Whigs’ growing determination to yield ground to the Nonconformists. He also frequently mimicked and mocked the proponents of “free thinking”: intellectual skeptics who questioned Anglican orthodoxy. A brilliant and still-perplexing example of this is Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1708).

A momentous period began for Swift when in 1710 he once again found himself in London. A Tory ministry headed by Robert Harley (later earl of Oxford) and Henry St. John (later Viscount Bolingbroke) was replacing that of the Whigs. The new administration, bent on bringing hostilities with France to a conclusion, was also assuming a more protective attitude toward the Church of England. Swift’s reactions to such a rapidly changing world are vividly recorded in his Journal to Stella, a series of letters written between his arrival in England in 1710 and 1713, which he addressed to Esther Johnson and her companion, Rebecca Dingley, who were now living in Dublin. The astute Harley made overtures to Swift and won him over to the Tories. But Swift did not thereby renounce his essentially Whiggish convictions regarding the nature of government. The old Tory theory of the divine right of kings had no claim upon him. The ultimate power, he insisted, derived from the people as a whole and, in the English constitution, had come to be exercised jointly by king, lords, and commons.

Swift quickly became the Tories’ chief pamphleteer and political writer and, by the end of October 1710, had taken over the Tory journal, The Examiner, which he continued to edit until June 14, 1711. He then began preparing a pamphlet in support of the Tory drive for peace with France. This, The Conduct of the Allies, appeared on Nov. 27, 1711, some weeks before the motion in favour of a peace was finally carried in Parliament. Swift was rewarded for his services in April 1713 with his appointment as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Withdrawal to Ireland
With the death of Queen Anne in August 1714 and the accession of George I, the Tories were a ruined party, and Swift’s career in England was at an end. He withdrew to Ireland, where he was to pass most of the remainder of his life. After a period of seclusion in his deanery, Swift gradually regained his energy. He turned again to verse, which he continued to write throughout the 1720s and early ’30s, producing the impressive poem Verses on the Death of Doctor Swift, among others. By 1720 he was also showing a renewed interest in public affairs. In his Irish pamphlets of this period he came to grips with many of the problems, social and economic, then confronting Ireland. His tone and manner varied from direct factual presentation to exhortation, humour, and bitter irony. Swift blamed Ireland’s backward state chiefly on the blindness of the English government; but he also insistently called attention to the things that the Irish themselves might do in order to better their lot. Of his Irish writings, the Drapier’s Letters (1724–25) and A Modest Proposal are the best known. The first is a series of letters attacking the English government for its scheme to supply Ireland with copper halfpence and farthings. A Modest Proposal is a grimly ironic letter of advice in which a public-spirited citizen suggests that Ireland’s overpopulation and dire economic conditions could be alleviated if the babies of poor Irish parents were sold as edible delicacies to be eaten by the rich. Both were published anonymously.

Certain events in Swift’s private life must also be mentioned. Stella (Esther Johnson) had continued to live with Rebecca Dingley after moving to Ireland in 1700 or 1701. It has sometimes been asserted that Stella and Swift were secretly married in 1716, but they did not live together, and there is no evidence to support this story. It was friendship that Swift always expressed in speaking of Stella, not romantic love. In addition to the letters that make up his Journal to Stella, he wrote verses to her, including a series of wry and touching poems titled On Stella’s Birthday. The question may be asked, was this friendship strained as a result of the appearance in his life of another woman, Esther Vanhomrigh, whom he named Vanessa (and who also appeared in his poetry)? He had met Vanessa during his London visit of 1707–09, and in 1714 she had, despite all his admonitions, insisted on following him to Ireland. Her letters to Swift reveal her passion for him, though at the time of her death in 1723 she had apparently turned against him because he insisted on maintaining a distant attitude toward her. Stella herself died in 1728. Scholars are still much in the dark concerning the precise relationships between these three people, and the various melodramatic theories that have been suggested rest upon no solid ground.

Swift’s greatest satire, Gulliver’s Travels, was published in 1726. It is uncertain when he began this work, but it appears from his correspondence that he was writing in earnest by 1721 and had finished the whole by August 1725. Its success was immediate. Then, and since, it has succeeded in entertaining (and intriguing) all classes of readers. It was completed at a time when he was close to the poet Alexander Pope and the poet and dramatist John Gay. He had been a fellow member of their Scriblerus Club since 1713, and through their correspondence, Pope continued to be one of his most important connections to England.

Last years
The closing years of Swift’s life have been the subject of some misrepresentation, and stories have been told of his ungovernable temper and lack of self-control. It has been suggested that he was insane. From youth he had suffered from what is now known to have been Ménière’s disease, an affliction of the semicircular canals of the ears, causing periods of dizziness and nausea. But his mental powers were in no way affected, and he remained active throughout most of the 1730s—Dublin’s foremost citizen and Ireland’s great patriot dean. In the autumn of 1739 a great celebration was held in his honour. He had, however, begun to fail physically and later suffered a paralytic stroke, with subsequent aphasia. In 1742 he was declared incapable of caring for himself, and guardians were appointed. After his death in 1745, he was buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On his memorial tablet is an epitaph of his own composition, which says that he lies “where savage indignation can no longer tear his heart.”

Gulliver’s Travels
Swift’s masterpiece was originally published without its author’s name under the title Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. This work, which is told in Gulliver’s “own words,” is the most brilliant as well as the most bitter and controversial of his satires. In each of its four books the hero, Lemuel Gulliver, embarks on a voyage; but shipwreck or some other hazard usually casts him up on a strange land. Book I takes him to Lilliput, where he wakes to find himself the giant prisoner of the six-inch-high Lilliputians. Man-Mountain, as Gulliver is called, ingratiates himself with the arrogant, self-important Lilliputians when he wades into the sea and captures an invasion fleet from neighbouring Blefescu; but he falls into disfavour when he puts out a fire in the empress’ palace by urinating on it. Learning of a plot to charge him with treason, he escapes from the island.

Book II takes Gulliver to Brobdingnag, where the inhabitants are giants. He is cared for kindly by a nine-year-old girl, Glumdalclitch, but his tiny size exposes him to dangers and indignities, such as getting his head caught in a squalling baby’s mouth. Also, the giants’ small physical imperfections (such as large pores) are highly visible and disturbing to him. Picked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea, he manages to return home.

In Book III Gulliver visits the floating island of Laputa, whose absent-minded inhabitants are so preoccupied with higher speculations that they are in constant danger of accidental collisions. He visits the Academy of Lagado (a travesty of England’s Royal Society), where he finds its lunatic savants engaged in such impractical studies as reducing human excrement to the original food. In Luggnagg he meets the Struldbruggs, a race of immortals, whose eternal senility is brutally described.

Book IV takes Gulliver to the Utopian land of the Houyhnhnms—grave, rational, and virtuous horses. There is also another race on the island, uneasily tolerated and used for menial services by the Houyhnhnms. These are the vicious and physically disgusting Yahoos. Although Gulliver pretends at first not to recognize them, he is forced at last to admit the Yahoos are human beings. He finds perfect happiness with the Houyhnhnms, but as he is only a more advanced Yahoo, he is rejected by them in general assembly and is returned to England, where he finds himself no longer able to tolerate the society of his fellow human beings.

Gulliver’s Travels’s matter-of-fact style and its air of sober reality confer on it an ironic depth that defeats oversimple explanations. Is it essentially comic, or is it a misanthropic depreciation of mankind? Swift certainly seems to use the various races and societies Gulliver encounters in his travels to satirize many of the errors, follies, and frailties that human beings are prone to. The warlike, disputatious, but essentially trivial Lilliputians in Book I and the deranged, impractical pedants and intellectuals in Book III are shown as imbalanced beings lacking common sense and even decency. The Houyhnhnms, by contrast, are the epitome of reason and virtuous simplicity, but Gulliver’s own proud identification with these horses and his subsequent disdain for his fellow humans indicates that he too has become imbalanced, and that human beings are simply incapable of aspiring to the virtuous rationality that Gulliver has glimpsed.

Swift’s intellectual roots lay in the rationalism that was characteristic of late 17th-century England. This rationalism, with its strong moral sense, its emphasis on common sense, and its distrust of emotionalism, gave him the standards by which he appraised human conduct. At the same time, however, he provided a unique description of reason’s weakness and of its use by men and women to delude themselves. His moral principles are scarcely original; his originality lies rather in the quality of his satiric imagination and his literary art. Swift’s literary tone varies from the humorous to the savage, but each of his satiric compositions is marked by concentrated power and directness of impact. His command of a great variety of prose styles is unfailing, as is his power of inventing imaginary episodes and all their accompanying details. Swift rarely speaks in his own person; almost always he states his views by ironic indiscretion through some imagined character like Lemuel Gulliver or the morally obtuse citizen of A Modest Proposal. Thus Swift’s descriptive passages reflect the minds that are describing just as much as the things described. Pulling in different directions, this irony creates the tensions that are characteristic of Swift’s best work, and reflects his vision of humanity’s ambiguous position between bestiality and reasonableness.

Ricardo Quintana


A Tale of a Tub

Jonathan Swift


In A Tale of a Tub, Swift adopts the persona of a hapless, pontificating satirist in order to savage a numberof contemporary pieties and practices. Once the reader has battled through a welter of Apologies, Addresses, Dedications, and a Preface, the "author" of the piece introduces a religious allegory which is supposed to depict the decadence of the Catholic Church and the necessity of its Reformation. The tale concerns three brothers who abuse their father's legacy of coats—which they are forbidden to embellish by the terms of his will.They proceed to wilfully misinterpret the will in order to follow the dictates of fashion. One brother, Peter, swindles his way into a position of great authority and wealth, while the other brothers rebel and strip their coats of the fripperies they had once coveted. The tale is complicated by the teller's incompetence: he finds the allegory impossible to sustain and cannot resist embarking on absurd tangents, including" A Digression in Praise of Digressions."
Swift's main targets are witless propagandists for Calvinism, but the flexibility of the genre, pushed to its limits by the invention of an insane "author," sanctions free-wheeling assaults which threaten the viability of Swift's own perspective—even satire itself is satirized. The force of A Tale of a Tub is attributable to this almost autonomous ironic energy, capable of undermining anything with a power that even Swift's subsequent and more famous masterpieces rarely equalled.


A Modest Proposal

Jonathan Swift


Or, more properly, A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents, Or the Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public. The title is long but Swift's propagandizing pamphlet is as succinct and excoriating a work of satire as is possible to conceive. Penned after its author returned to Dublin to become Dean of St. Patrick's, the work expresses in equal measure contempt for English policy in Ireland and for Irish docility in taking it. A prolific writer, political journalist, and wit, Swift was skilled at transforming outrage to glacial irony.
The proposal here is anything but modest; Irish children can become less burdensome to their families and the state by being eaten by the rich. Children might become quality livestock for poor farmers. Young children, Swift suggests, are "nourishing and wholesome" whether they are "stewed, roasted, baked, or broiled" while older, less obviously tasty offspring might be spared for breeding purposes. The abundant advantages include reducing the numbers of "Papists'; providing much-needed funds for the peasantry, boosting national income, and stimulating the catering trade. Swift also satirizes the callousness of the English protestant absentee landowners whose economics value mercantilism ahead of labor power. While, across his oeuvre, Swift is notoriously complicated in his politics, in this pungent pamphlet, we find him at his savage best.



Gulliver's Travels

Jonathan Swift


Everyone knows at least something about Gulliver's Travels. Variously read and re-written as a children's story, a political satire, a travel text, an animated film, and a BBC television series, Swift's perennial classic has been bowdlerized, added to, argued over, and adapted, but remains a constant presence in any widely accepted canon of English Literature.
The narrative follows the adventures of innocent abroad, Lemuel Gulliver, from misguided youth, through the distorting mirrors of Lilliput and Brobdignag, onto the more enigmatic islands of Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan, followed by the crucially important land of the Houyhnhms and the Yahoos. Swift masterfully inserts such locations into the blank spaces of eighteenth-century maps (actually included in the first edition) and follows the conventions of the contemporary travel narrative with such precision that the real and the fantastical coalesce. Our only guide is Gulliver, whose unwavering confidence in the superiority of the Englishman and of English culture is slowly and inevitably picked apart by the assorted characters he encounters on his travels, some minute, some huge, some misguided, some savage, others guided entirely by reason. All offer comments to, and perspectives upon Gulliver, that force readers to question their own assumptions.lt is a satire that may have lost some of its immediate political force, but one that still has a sting in its tail for us today, made all the more effective as Swift stages the climax of the tales within the bounds of the English nation-state.The vehemence with which Gulliver eschews the company of his fellows for his horses is an image that will remain with readers forever—for it is here that it becomes clear that he is not the main target of the satire. We are.





Type of work: Simulated record of travel
Author: Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Type of plot: Social satire
Time of plot: 1699-1713
Locale: England and various fictional lands
First published: 1726

One of the masterpieces of satire among the world's literature, Gulliver's Travels is written in the form of a travel journal divided into four sections, each of which describes a different voyage of ship's physician Lemuel Gulliver. In each section he visits a different fantastical society—Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and Houyhnhnmland—and records the facts and customs of the country. Through Gulliver's adventures and observations, Swift aims his at times savage satire against the English people generally and the Whigs particularly, against various political, academic, and social institutions, and against man's constant abuse of his greatest gift, reason.

Principal Character

Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon, sea captain, traveler and the narrator of these travel accounts, the purpose of which is to satirize the pretensions and follies of man. Gulliver is an ordinary man, capable of close observation; his deceptively matter-of-fact reportage and his great accumulation of detail make believable and readable a scathing political and social satire. On his first voyage he is shipwrecked at Lilliput, a country inhabited by people no more than six inches tall, where pretentiousness, individual as well as political, is ridiculed. The second voyage ends in Brobdingnag, a land of giants. Human gross-ness is a target here. Moreover, Gulliver does not find it easy to make sense of English customs and politics in explaining them to a king sixty feet high. On Gulliver's third voyage pirates attack the ship and set him adrift in a small boat. One day he sees and goes aboard Laputa, a flying island inhabited by incredibly abstract and absent-minded people. From Laputa he visits Balnibari, where wildly impractical experiments in construction and agriculture are in progress. Then he goes to Glubbdubdrib, the island of sorcerers, where he is shown apparitions of such historical figures as Alexander and Caesar, who decry the inaccuracies of history books. Visiting Lugg-nagg, Gulliver, after describing an imaginary immortality of constant learning and growing wisdom, is shown a group of immortals called Struldbrugs, who are grotesque, pitiable creatures, senile for centuries, but destined never to die. Gulliver's last journey is to the land of the Houyhnhnms, horselike creatures in appearance, possessed of great intelligence, rationality, restraint, and courtesy. Dreadful humanlike creatures, called Yahoos, impart tc Gulliver such a loathing of the human form that, forced to return at last to England, he cannot bear the sight of even his own family and feels at home only in the stables.

The Story

Lemuel Gulliver, a physician, took the post of ship's doctor on the Antelope, which set sail from Bristol for the South Seas in May, 1699. When the ship was wrecked in a storm somewhere near Tasmania, Gulliver had to swim for his life. Wind and tide helped to carry him close to a low-lying shore where he fell, exhausted, into a deep sleep. Upon awakening, he found himself held to the ground by hundreds of small ropes. He soon discovered that he was the prisoner of humans six inches tall. Still tied, Gulliver was fed by his captors; then he was placed on a special wagon built to his size and drawn by fifteen hundred small horses. Carried in this manner to the capital city of the small humans, he was exhibited as a great curiosity to the people of Lilliput, as the land of the diminutive people was called. He was kept chained to a huge Lilliputian building into which he crawled at night to sleep.
Gulliver soon learned the Lilliputian language, and through his personal charm and natural curiosity, he came into good graces at the royal court. At length, he was given his freedom, contingent upon his obeying many rules devised by the emperor prescribing his deportment in Lilliput. Now free, Gulliver toured Mildendo, the capital city, and found it to be similar to European cities of the time.
Learning that Lilliput was in danger of an invasion by the forces of the neighboring empire, Blefuscu, he offered his services to the emperor of Lilliput. While the enemy
fleet awaited favorable winds to carry their ships the eight hundred yards between Blefuscu and Lilliput, Gulliver took some Lilliputian cable, waded to Blefuscu, and brought back the entire fleet by means of hooks attached to the cables. He was greeted with great acclaim, and the emperor made him a nobleman. Soon, however, the emperor and Gulliver quarreled over differences concerning the fate of the now helpless Blefuscu. The emperor wanted to reduce the enemy to the status of slaves; Gulliver championed their liberty. The pro-Gulliver forces prevailed in the Lilliputian parliament; the peace settlement was favorable to Blefuscu. Gulliver, however, was now in disfavor at court.
He visited Blefuscu, where he was received graciously by the emperor and the people. One day, while exploring the empire, he found a ship's boat washed ashore from a wreck. With the help of thousands of Blefuscu artisans, he repaired the boat for his projected voyage back to his own civilization. Taking some cattle and sheep with him, he sailed away and was eventually picked up by an English vessel.
Back in England, Gulliver spent a short time with his family before he shipped aboard the Adventure, bound for India. The ship was blown off course by fierce winds. Somewhere on the coast of Great Tartary a landing party went ashore to forage for supplies. Gulliver, who had wandered away from the party, was left behind when a gigantic human figure pursued the sailors back to the ship. Gulliver was caught in a field by giants threshing grain that grew forty feet high. Becoming the pet of a farmer and his family, he amused them with his humanlike behavior. The farmer's nine-year-old daughter, who was not yet over forty feet high, took special charge of Gulliver.
The farmer displayed Gulliver first at a local market town. Then he took his little pet to the metropolis, where Gulliver was put on show to the great detriment of his health. The farmer, seeing that Gulliver was near death, sold him to the queen, who took a great fancy to the little curiosity. The court doctors and philosophers studied Gulliver as a quaint trick of nature. He subsequently had adventures with giant rats the size of lions, with a dwarf thirty feet high, with wasps as large as partridges, with apples the size of Bristol barrels, and with hailstones the size of tennis balls.
He and the king discussed the institutions of their respective countries, the king asking Gulliver many questions about Great Britain that Gulliver found impossible to answer truthfully without embarrassment.
After two years in Brobdingnag, the land of the giants, Gulliver miraculously escaped when a large bird carried his portable quarters out over the sea. The bird dropped the box containing Gulliver, and he was rescued by a ship that was on its way to England. Back home, it took Gulliver some time to accustom himself once more to a world of normal size.
Soon afterward, Gulliver went to sea again. Pirates from a Chinese port attacked the ship. Set adrift in a small sailboat, Gulliver was cast away upon a rocky island. One day, he saw a large floating mass descending from the sky. Taken aboard the flying island of Laputa, he soon found it to be inhabited by intellectuals who thought only in the realm of the abstract and the exceedingly impractical. The people of the island, including the king, were so absentminded that they had to have servants following them to remind them even of their trends of conversation. When the floating island arrived above the continent of Balnibari, Gulliver received permission to visit that realm. There he inspected the Grand Academy, where hundreds of highly impractical projects for the improvement of agriculture and building were under way.
Next, Gulliver journeyed by boat to Glubbdubdrib, the island of sorcerers. By means of magic, the governor of the island showed Gulliver such great historical figures as Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Pompey, and Sir Thomas More. Gulliver talked to the apparitions and learned from them that history books were inaccurate.
From Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver ventured to Luggnagg. There he was welcomed by the king, who showed him the Luggnaggian immortals, or Struldbrugs—beings who would never die.
Gulliver traveled on to Japan, where he took a ship back to England. He has been away for more than three years.
Gulliver became restless after a brief stay at his home, and he signed as captain of a ship that sailed from Portsmouth in August, 1710, destined for the South Seas. The crew mutinied, keeping Captain Gulliver prisoner in his cabin for months. At length, he was cast adrift in a longboat off a strange coast. Ashore, he came upon and was nearly overwhelmed by disgusting half-human, half-ape creatures who fled in terror at the approach of a horse. Gulliver soon discovered, to his amazement, that he was in a land where rational horses, the Houyhnhnms, were masters of irrational human creatures, the Yahoos. He stayed in the stable house of a Houyhnhnm family and learned to subsist on oaten cake and milk. The Houyhnhnms were horrified to learn from Gulliver that horses in England were used by Yahoolike creatures as beasts of burden. Gulliver described England to his host, much to the candid and straightforward Houyhnhnm's mystification. Such things as wars and courts of law were unknown to this race of intelligent horses. As he did in the other lands he visited, Gulliver attempted to explain the institutions of his native land, but the friendly and benevolent Houyhnhnms were appalled by many of the things Gulliver told them.
Gulliver lived in almost perfect contentment among the horses, until one day his host told him that the Houyhnhnm Grand Assembly had decreed Gulliver either be treated as an ordinary Yahoo or be released to swim back to the land from which he had come. Gulliver built a canoe and sailed away. At length, he was picked up by a Portuguese vessel. Remembering the Yahoos, he became a recluse on the ship and began to hate all mankind. Landing at Lisbon, he sailed from there to England; but on his arrival, the sight of his own family repulsed him. He fainted when his wife kissed him. His horses became his only friends on earth.

Critical Evaluation

It has been said that Dean Jonathan Swift hated humanity but loved individual men. His hatred is brought out in this caustic political and social satire aimed at the English people, representing mankind in general, and at the Whigs in particular. By means of a disarming simplicity of style and of careful attention to detail in order to heighten the effect of the narrative, Swift produced one of the outstanding pieces of satire in world literature. Swift himself attempted to conceal his authorship of the book under its original title: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships.
When Swift created the character of Lemuel Gulliver as his narrator for Gulliver's Travels, he developed a personality with many qualities admired by an eighteenth century audience and still admired by many readers. Gulliver is a decent sort of person: hopeful, simple, fairly direct, and full of good will. He is a scientist, a trained doctor; and, as any good scientist should, he loves detail. His literal-minded attitude makes him a keen observer of the world around him. Furthermore, he is, like another famous novel character of the eighteenth century— Robinson Crusoe—encouragingly resourceful in emergencies. Why is it, then, that such a seemingly admirable, even heroic character, should become, in the end, an embittered misanthrope, hating the world and turning against everyone, including people who show him kindness?
The answer lies in what Swift meant for his character to be, and Gulliver was certainly not intended to be heroic. Readers often confuse Gulliver the character with Swift the author, but to do so is to miss the point of Gulliver's Travels. The novel is a satire, and Gulliver is a mask for Swift the satirist. In fact, Swift does not share Gulliver's values especially his rationalistic, scientific responses to the world and his belief in progress and the perfectibility of man. Swift, on the contrary, believed that such values were dangerous to mankind and that to put such complete faith in the material world, as scientific Gulliver did, was folly. As Swift's creation, Gulliver is a product of his age, and he is designed as a character to demonstrate the great weakness underlying the values of the "Age of Enlightenment," the failure to recognize the power of that which is irrational in man.
Despite Gulliver's apparent congeniality in the opening chapters of the novel, Swift makes it clear that his character has serious shortcomings, including blind spots about human nature and his own nature. Book 3, the least readable section of Gulliver's Travels, is in some ways the most revealing part of the book. In it Gulliver complains, for example, that the wives of the scientists he is observing run away with the servants. The fact is that Gulliver—himself a scientist—gives little thought to the well-being of his own wife. In the eleven years covered in Gulliver's "travel book," Swift's narrator spends a total of seven months and ten days with his wife.
Therefore, Gulliver, too, is caught up in Swift's web of satire in Gulliver's Travels. Satire as a literary form tends to be ironic; the author says the opposite of what he means. Consequently, readers can assume that much of what Gulliver observes as good and much of what he thinks and does are the opposite of what Swift thinks.
As a type of the eighteenth century, Gulliver exhibits its major values: belief in rationality, in the perfectibility of man, in the idea of progress, and in the Lockean philosophy of the human mind as a tabula rasa—or blank slate, at the time of birth—controlled and developed entirely by the differing strokes and impressions made on it by the environment. Swift, in contrast to Gulliver, hated the abstraction that accompanied rational thinking; he abhorred the rejection of the past that resulted from a rationalist faith in the new and improved; and he cast strong doubts on man's ability to gain knowledge through reason and logic.
The world Gulliver discovers during his travels is significant in Swift's satire. The Lilliputians, averaging not quite six inches in height, display the pettiness and the smallness Swift detects in much that motivates human institutions, such as church and state. It is petty religious problems that lead to continual war in Lilliput. The Brob-dingnagians continue the satire in part 2 by exaggerating man's grossness through their enlarged size. (Swift divided human measurements by a twelfth for the Lilliputians and multiplied the same for the Brobdingnagians.)
The tiny people of part 1 and the giants of part 2 establish a pattern of contrasts that Swift follows in part 4 with the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. The Yahoos, "their heads and breasts covered with a thick hair, some frizzled and others lank," naked otherwise and scampering up trees like nimble squirrels, represent the animal aspect of man when it is viewed as separate from the rational. The Houyhnhnms, completing the other half of the split, know no lust, pain, or pleasure. Their rational temperaments totally rule their passions, if they have any at all. The land of the Houyhnhnms is a Utopia to Gulliver, and he tells the horse-people that his homeland is unfortunately governed by Yahoos.
But what is the land of the Houyhnhnms really like, how much a Utopia? Friendship, benevolence, and equality are the principal virtues there. Decency and civility guide every action. As a result, each pair of horses mates to have one colt of each sex; after that, they no longer stay together. The marriages are arranged to ensure pleasing color combinations in the offspring. To the young, marriage is "one of the necessary actions of a reasonable being." After the function of the marriage has been ful-filled—after the race has been propagated—the two members of the couple are no closer to each other than to anybody else in the whole country. It is this kind of "equality" that Swift satirizes. As a product of the rational attitude, such a value strips life of its fullness, denies the power of emotion and instinct, subjugates all to logic, reason, the intellect, and makes all dull and uninteresting—as predictable as a scientific experiment.
By looking upon the Houyhnhnms as the perfect creatures, Gulliver makes his own life back in England intolerable:

I ... return to enjoy my own speculations in my little garden at Redriff; to apply those excellent lessons of virtue which I learned among the Houyhnhnms; to instruct the Yahoos of my own family as far as I shall find them docible animals; to behold my figure often in a glass, and thus if possible habituate myself by time to tolerate the sight of a human creature.

When Gulliver holds up rational men as perfect man and when he cannot find a rational man to meet his ideal, he concludes in disillusionment that mankind is totally animalistic, like the ugly Yahoos. In addition to being a satire and a parody of travel books, Gulliver's Travels is an initiation novel. As Gulliver develops, he changes; but he fails to learn an important lesson of life, or he learns it wrong. His naive optimism about progress and rational man leads him to bitter disillusionment.
It is tragically ironic that Swift died at the age of seventy-eight after three years of living without his reason; a victim of Meniere's disease, he died "like a rat in a hole." For many years, he had struggled against fits of deafness and giddiness, symptoms of the disease. As a master of the language of satire, Swift remains une-qualed. He gathered in Gulliver's Travels, written late in his life, all the experience he had culled from both courts and streets. For Swift knew people, and, as individuals, he loved them; but when they changed into groups, he hated them, satirized them, and stung them into realizing the dangers of the herd. Gulliver never understood this.




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