Gulliver’s Travels]- Jonathan Swift **************************************************************** By P. Baburaj, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of English, Sherubtse college, Bhutan Author of: Language and writing, DSB Publication Thimphu Communicative English, P. K. Books, Calicut A perception on Literary Criticism, P. K. Books, Calicut ****************************************************************** The eighteenth century was an age of satire.
Dryden and pope immortalized themselves by their verse while Jonathan Swift was undoubtedly the greatest British satirist in prose. The political and religious controversies of the time were conducive to the promotion of satire in an age of urbanity and refinement which not only tolerated but delighted in satire, provided, it was humorous and witty it has been remarked that satire is the fine art of calling names. In Rome Horace and Juvenal used satire for the purpose of ridiculing human affectations, follies and vices with a view of reforming society.
But when the satire is too general it stands in danger of falling wide of its target and when it is directed against individuals it is likely to be debased in to personal lampoons. Swift wrote personal satires but his attacks were generally directed against common abuses and his main purpose was to reform society. Jonathan Swift was born of English parents in Dublin in 1667. He was a distant cousin of Dryden who happened to incur the lasting displeasure of Swift by his remarks: ”cousin Swift you will never be a poet”.
Distantly related to Sir William Temple, a retired politician and an elegant writer of the period Swift came to London and stayed with his wealthy relation as a poor dependent and confidential secretary. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin and was well read in the classics. Later he studied theology and was ordained priest . one of his squibs on religion offended Queen Anne and he was baulked of his promotion in the church but after her death he rose to be the Dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin towards the close of the century.
Temple happened to dabble in literature. The controversy regarding the relative merits of the ancient and modern authors roused more heat than light for some time in France and Temple made some references to it in one of his essays. Virulent attacks and counter attacks appeared in the press. It was a veritable storm in a tea cup. Swift was neither concerned with the controversy nor qualified to take an effective part in it. Nevertheless he entered in to the fray with all the weapon in his arrows – satire, humour, irony, sarcasm, ridicule and invective.
In his ‘the battle of the books’ he supported Temple and ridiculed his opponents. In the famous allegory of ‘the bee and spider’, he praised the ancients as furnishing honey and wax, sweetness and light, and ridiculed the moderns as weaving flimsy webs, like the spider , with the poisonous stuff that flowered from themselves. In the tale of a tub, swift set out to ridicule the extremist in Catholicism and the fanatical dissenters and to advocate the middle course as represented by the Anglican church.
For this purpose he invented an allegorical fable of three brothers who inherited a coat of a piece from their father with strict instructions regarding its use. The coat, of course, is the Christian theology. The three brothers Peter, Martin and Jack symbolise respectively Roman Catholicism, the Anglican Church and the dissenters. It is a master piece of satire, but the ultimate result of swift’s satire was to bring all religion in to contempt, though that was not his real aim. Swift’s irony can best illustrated by his short pamphlet entitled a modest proposal.
He was roused to righteous indignation at the ruthless exploitation of the Irish peasantry by their absentee landlords in England. But swift opens his ‘proposal’ with a quietly deceptive tone of seriousness. He puts forth his modest proposal for the economic uplift of the poor Irish peasants; “every woman of child-bearing age is to produce as many children as possible and bring them to the market when they are one year old; Page 1 children aged one year are most delicious according to the best authorities and so they would be in great demand at an English noble man’s table.
It is not difficult to see the righteous indignation beneath the apparently cold-blooded argument, the irony is devastation. Swift is the author of the pamphlets, political, religious and literary in which he sought the reform of the society of its abuses and affections. But his magnum opus is Gulliver’s travels (1726). It is at once children’s classics as well as a serious treatise in which satiric pours corrosive ridicules of he on what Swift considers to be the abuse of his age. As children’s classic it can be read as a marvelous adventure in wonderland. With an abundance of circumstantial details. e are told how a certain Gulliver happened to make several voyages into strange undiscovered countries. Swift makes certain preposterous assumptions but once the initial premise is granted what follows conforms it with mathematical precision. in his first voyage, ‘A voyage to Lilliput Gulliver was driven. Far away from his course ;he was cast ashore on an island called Lilliput, where the inhabitants were about six inches tall and all the environment of animate and inanimate conformed exactly to those human dimensions. They were equipped with bows and arrows in which they were adepts.
It was mathematically calculated that Gulliver would require food which 1728 Lilliputians would consume. The king was a patron of learning, he was handsome and majestic. Gulliver was carefully searched and dispossessed of his pistols and ammunitions. The courtier practiced tight rope walking and official preferment went to those who excelled in this exercise. The most accomplished of them was the filmnap, the treasurer. (the king supposed to stand for the George l and filmnap, the Whig prime minister Robert Walpole). The Lilliputians were engaged in war with the neighboring country, Belfuscu.
It was easy for the Lilliputians to win with the help of their gigantically, but as soon as they accomplished they turn against him in ingratitude. Filmnap continued to be his chief enemy. Gulliver knew that he ws likely to be unjustly accused of high treason and therefore he secretly grossed over to Belfuscu and escaped from eminent danger. He returned home and stayed with his wife and family for two months. A Voyage to Brobdingnag. He was again possessed of an insatiable desire to go on another voyage. This time he was bound for India. This second voyage proved to be equally eventful and strange.
All alone he happened to be cast ashore on a strange land where corn was at least forty feet high and the first person he saw appeared as tall as an ordinary spire steeple. He was farmer’s servant who first looked at Gulliver as a curious creature and took him to his master. This country was Brobdingnag, where the people were sixty feet in height. The skin of these giants was repulsively hard and ugly, freckled and covered all over with wrat and moles and rough hair. When one of the nurses was suckling the child entrusted to her Guilllver saw her revoltingly big breasts, which “cold not be less than ixteen feet in circumference. The nipple was about half of my head and the hue both of that and dug so verified with spots, pimples and freckles that nothing could appear more nauseous” . Many times he was in the danger of being killed by gigantic creatures of Brobdingnag but luckily for him he had nine year old nurse ,the farmer’s daughter called Glumdalclitch, who took care of him and protected him from dangers. In his greed the farmer exhibited Gulliver in market places and finally brought to Metropolis where the king and the queen took a fancy to him and took him under their special protection.
But Gulliver’s kind nurse was asked to stay in the palace to take care of him. Though the Brobdingnag were physically gross and repulsive they were kind and sensible. The king observed how “contemptible a thing was human grandeur which could be mimicked by such diminutive insects like I”. the queen’s maids of honour always invited Glumdalclitch to visit them in their room with Gulliver whom they thought to be as sort of pet. “They would often strip me naked from top to toe and lay me in their bosoms, where I was disgusted because….. very offensive smell came from their skins”. Gulliver had the most dangerous experience of his life when a monkey took him in his paw and fliited from one building to another with Gulliver dangling from his paw. From that day onwards Glumdiltich took greater care of Gulliver. Page 2 A Voyage to Brobdingnag The king used to enquire of the political and religious conditions of the Europe. Gulliver ironically expatiated upon the wonderful parliamentary system and elections in European nations, their standing armies and their institutions.
Far from admiring these, the Brobdingnagian king was astonished, and he protested that it was only a “heap of conspiracies rebellions massacres, revolutions and banishments. The very worst effects that avarice, factions, hypocrisy, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice and ambition could produce. ” “Finally the king concluded with the most ferocious attack on the state of affair in contemporary Europe, I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be most pernicious race of little odious vermin that ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth. Further Gulliver informed the king about the invention and use of gun powder which could destroy whole batteries of an army. The king’s ingenious remark was certainly an echo of Swift’s own opinion: “he gave it for his opinion that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before would deserve better of mankind, and more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together”.
Gulliver speaks with approval of Brobdingnagian’s learning which consist only immortality, history, poetry, maths; to write a command upon any law is a capital crime; their style is clear, masculine and smooth, but not florid. This is Gulliver’s and (Swift’s) criticism of European civilization in his own age. When he returned home at first Gulliver had a good deal of difficulty in adjusting to himself to his wife and friends; he felt that they were all pygmies and he a giant; he felt for some time that he had lost his wife.
A Voyage to Laputa Gulliver’s third voyage was to East Indies; he rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached fort St. George, Madras where he stayed for three weeks. He resumed his journey but was captured by pirates and left alone in a group of islands called Laputa. Here the important persons were so much absorbed in speculation, scientific and political that they had to have flappers who brought them back to their sense by flapping their ears and mouths. An opaque flying island often hovered over the islands when they were cut off from the sun’s light.
Here Gulliver visited several islands and in the grand academy situated in Lagado he found people engrossed in various projects. One was trying to “extract sun beams from cucumber”; another was working trying on an “operation to reduce human excrement to its original food”. Yet another was trying to “calcine ice into gun powder” and so on. Most of them begged Gulliver for monetary assistance, in one of these islands there were magicians and conjurers; in another there were a group of people called Struldburgs, people who would not die was a curse rather than a blessing.
Afterwards Gulliver sailed towards Japan and from there returned to England. Voyage to Houyhnhnms Gulliver’s fourth voyage took him to the land of the Houyhnhnms( pronounced as hou-in’em), a strange species of rational horses. By a curious accident he landed on Houyhnhnm land, where the first object he saw was a physically repulsive creature. Gulliver was disgusted for “upon the whole I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy. And yet he could recognize in him a man like himself.
The horses were the master of these debased human creatures called Yahoos. Gulliver was amazed to see the most urbane conduct in the Horses (though they were beasts) and the most bestial behavior among the human-looking Yahoos. These Horses were endowed with a fine degree of reason; their behavior was “so orderly and rational, so acute and judicious” that Gulliver at last concluded that they must needs be magicians who had thus Page 3 metamorphosed themselves. In a few months Gulliver was able to communicate in the language of the Honyhuhums.
Curiously enough their language did not have words to express lies and other similar concepts; they were dignified and handsome, and their strength and speed were marvelous. On some occasions Gulliver discussed to the King that in Europe, human beings trained the horses and rode on their back and naturally roused great indignation in the king. When he went on to describe the fierce wars in Europe the king of Honyhuhums was greatly amazed at the perversion of human reason, but he consoled himself with the thought that these petty creatures could not do much mischief even if they wanted to.
His amazement grew when he was told how many people in Europe were ruined by law and all advocates without exception were so accustomed to lying that they would never take up a true case. Gulliver further informed the king how in his own country a man rose to power “with prudence to dispose of a wife, a daughter or a sister” by betraying a predecessor or by pretending to a furious zeal in public assemblies against the corruptions of the court. The chief minister’s palace was a seminary to breed others in his own trade, and they excelled in insolence, lying and bribery.
The yahoo in Houyhuhums land has to ‘lick his master’s feet and posteriors and drive the female yahoos to his kennel, for which he was now and then rewarded with a piece of ass’s flesh “The houyhuhums were endowed by nature with a genial disposition to all virtues……their grand maxim is to cultivate reason. ” Their convictions were never discolored by passion and self-interest. A universal friendship and benevolence governed all their conduct, but they had no ‘fond nesses or pets. They practiced a control of their population by restricting the progeny of each couple to one male and one female colt.
It was again, reason and not passion, which governed propagation. The four lessons of their education were ‘Temperature industry, Exercise and Cleanliness. ’ They trained up their youth to strength, speed and hardness. On the whole Houyhuhums maintained a high degree of decency and dignity. If they were not able to rise to great glories of the spirit, they were also incapable of descending into the depths of bestiality. Some of the Houyhuhums were afraid that because Gulliver possessed some rudiments of reasons he might try to seduce the yahoos of the land so it was decided that he must be expelled from the country.
So he had a vessel constructed and he resumed his voyage. He fell into the hands of very cruel people but eventually a very kind-hearted Portuguese captain took him and put him safely on the shore of Byland, where he soon joined his wife and children. But he shuddered at the sight of them as they resembled the disgusting yahoos. “As soon as I entered my house. ” Gulliver tells us, “my wife took me in her arms and kissed me; at which, having not been used to the touch of the odious animal for so many years. I fell in a swoon for almost an hour. During the first year (of my return) I could not endure my wife or children in my presence.
The very smell of them was intolerable; much less could I suffer them to eat in the room. ” So great was his admiration for Houyhuhumn that for some time he used to walk like a horse and neigh like a horse. The tragic denunciation of man is rounded off with comic laughter. The book concludes with an assertion that “a traveler’s chief aim should be to make men wise and better, and to improve their minds by the bad as well as the good example of what they deliver concerning foreign places. ” And Swift seems to feel that the most intolerable vice among the yahoo kind is pride.
In one of his letter to Alxander Pope, Swift explained his aim in writing Gulliver Travels “the chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it. ” Nevertheless the book has been infinitely diverting and has established itself as a children’s classic. it is a universal favorite not because it is sought to ‘vex’ the reader’s into a realization of their individual and social follies and vices, but because the scene conceived a series of diverting situations and episodes and described them with plenty of imaginative and humorous details.
In the first voyage, the diminutive Lilliputians, providing themselves on their destructive arms mere bows and arrows and their stratagems of war are ridiculous. And Gulliver could easily capture dozens of the enemy ships disregardful of the arrows which hit him. Page 4 The factions between the Big Enders and the Little_Enders been the High_heels and Low_heels, are ludicrous in the extreme. In the land of the Brobdingnagians the gigantic creatures as tall as church_steeples are equally amusing, particularly to children.
The account of Gulliver’s fall through the fingers of one of the two men and his miraculous escape from death by being stuck up on the pin of her ‘stomacher’, his adventure with the monstrous monkey, which took him all over the house-tops and tree-tops with the prospect of imminent death for Gulliver, the diversion of one of the maids of honour who stretched Gulliver on her breast, and a dozen similar episodes cannot fail to fascinate the reader. It is to be admitted that the third voyage, a voyage to Laputa is not half as successful as the one before it or the one that comes after it.
It is episodic and confused. But the scientific and political projects such as trying to extract sun beams out of cucumbers, food out of human excreta, and gun powder out of ice are travesties of what Swift considers to the unprofitable research-projects in his own time. The tempo rises once again when we follow Gulliver through his last voyage. This time into the land of the rational Honyhuhmns. Apart from its satiric purpose, the fourth book describes with humor and imagination the debased mankind and the rational noble Horses, who was Gulliver’s unbounded admiration for them.
Since his return to England Gulliver found it difficult to adapt himself to his own species: he was repulsed, by his wife’s embraces and kisses; he walked like a horse and neighed like a horse; he built his tent in the stables and chose horses rather than human as his companions. Swift’s satire is directed as much against the Yahoo’s and the Honyhuhmns as against Gulliver himself. Certainly we shall be committing a gross mistake if we, like the 19th century critics of Swift, identify Gulliver with Swift himself, though it is true that in general places the identification is unmistakable.
If we could ignore for the moment the political and moral allegory of “Gulliver’s travel” we can enjoy it as a fascinating narrative of adventures in which the imaginative frame work is amazingly filled with apparently realistic details. It is at once an imitation and a parody of the traveller’s accounts and imaginary utopia’s which enchanted the Elizabethan’s and their successors. But “Gulliver’s Travels” is much more than a children’s classic. It is a merciless satire on the political and moral conditions of Europe in eneral and of England in particular. Swift intended to ‘vex’ his contemporary into a realization of their pettiness and pride, their avarice and manners, the enormity of their follies and vices, the degradation of their institution and their needless wars of destruction. Swift did not care to point out human follies and vices with gentle humor as did Addison and Steele; on the other hand his righteous indignation burnt fiercely in him, he fretted and fumed at the mouth; he quashed his teeth and poured out satire and sarcasm and invective.
So fierce was the onslaught and so great the disgust that he has often been branded as a misanthrope and a cynic, but as we have already seen his Modest proposal should put us on our guard. In one of his letters to his friends, Alexander Pope, he said, ‘I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter Thomas and so forth. In the first book, the political satire is transparently clear. After his disillusionment with the Whigs, Swift went over to the Torries. Ever since he stood firm as a conservative and an ardent member of the Anglican church.
He was indignant at the undeserved fall and exile of oxford and Bolingbroke (with whom Gulliver often identifies himself). The Lilliputians are the English; the Blefuscudians are the French, who were often at war with each other. Bolingbroke and saved England can Gulliver had saved the Lilliputians, but ingratitude and treachery drove the benefactor out of the country. The sexual promiscuity, the political machinations and the pettiness (as represented by their size) and pride of the Lilliputians are a satire on contemporary English society. Lilliput is sometimes utopia sometimes 18th century England made utterly contemptible by the small size of the people who exhibit the same vices and follies as the English. The account of Lilliputians politics with the quarrel between the high- heels and the low-heels and between the big-enders and the little-enders, is clearly a parody of English politics, on the other hand, this chapter on Lilliputian law and education is almost wholly utopian” (David Daichas). Page 5 In the second book, the satire is more complex.
If in the first book, Swift satirized the pettiness of man and disproportionate pride and sense of importance, here Swift applies the magnifying glass to man’s disgustingly bloated vices, his repulsive physical features and bodily odour. Even the fairest of the female Brobdingnagians had disgustingly big blotches, pimples and freckles all over their skin and the offensive smell which emanated from their body indicated that man had no reason to be proud. But, the satire here is two edged.
When Gulliver expatiated upon the conditions of Europe in ironic admiration of its institutions and its warfare. The virtuous king of Brobdingnag was moved to exclaim-“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth” for their history revealed. Nothing but ‘a heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments, the very affects that avarice fraction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, just, malice and ambition could produce. It is to be admitted that this type of general satire the intended affect because everyone lays the blame at the door of others and never applies it to himself The voyage of Laputa satirises England’s tyranny over Ireland . It is easy to see in the flying island the oppressive role of England on the life of Ireland. Lindalino is anagram of Dublin. Swift ridicules the activities of the scientific experiments under taken by the Royal Society. Which is represented here by the academy of projectors in Lagado?
Swift was concerned only with the ethics of life and the experiments in science and politics appeared to him as needless waste of time in the innumerable cells of the academy, one has been working at the ridiculous project of extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers another has been encaged for long in the project of turning human excrement in to human food and yet another has been trying to convert it in to gun powder here at any rate swift satire mysteries, for if science had been discouraged by this sardonic attack on them the present marvels of scientific discovery would have been impossible.
The last voyageto houyhnhnm land take us into deeper waters. Critics of swift in the 18th and 19th centuries were misled into thinking that here swift was extolling the sensible animals and branding human beings irredeemably vicious and intolerably disgusting like the yahoos. it is true that swift scorn of debased man is terrible but Gulliver is not swift the ardent Anglican dean could not have held up to our unqualified admiration the houyhnhnms who were of course rational, decent, benevolent and friendly. They limited their families to two colts- one male and the other female.
They imparted instruction to their youth intemperance, industry exercise and cleanliness. The praise of these animals is intended to show how very debased man can be when he perverts his reason and yields to his passions but if the houyhnhnms escape the depths of human depravity, they also miss the glory of the human life, certainly the modern view that swift is not to be identified with Gulliver does not admit of further dispute. 3. Swift is often accused of being a pessimist, a cynical gloomy misanthrope, a seventeenth century Timon of Athens.
At any rate this was the view of swift which 18 th and 19th century critics of swift had consistently maintained This view has been stoutly challenged by modern critics who have examined the book from a variety of angles. In the first two books of Gulliver’s travels in Gulliver s voyage to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, there is obvious gentility though the narrator shows his disgust at the pettiness and the squabbles of the pygmies and the grossness of the Brobdingnaginas physical features.
In Brodingnaginas, the nine year old Glumdaiclits is full of tender solicitude for his safety, and is almost in tears at her fathers greed in intending to amass money buy exhibiting Gulliver at the market place. The educational system of the Lilliputians and the Brodingnaginas view of life are almost utopian. The charge of pessimism and misanthropy cannot be sustained on the basis of these two voyages. In the third book the voyage to Laputta swift seems to ridicule with unspairing the severity the scientific experiments and philosophical speculations of his time, but ridicule is not misanthropy.
The charge then is made mainly on the four book. The Yahoos are undoubted caricature of human beings: they lick the feet of the horse and are happy when some piece of ass’s flesh is thrown to them. The human kind seems Page 6 to be infinitely debased when contrasted with the Horses, which, by comparison, are governed by reason. There seems to be no redeeming quality in the Yahoos and the nineteenth century critics had no hesitation to brand the satirist as a misanthrope who hated man, a pessimist who saw in him not one redeeming virtue.
The voyage to the Houyhnhnms was even considered “more or less symptomatic of mental disease”. But Gulliver was saved by a Portuguese captain, who showed him great kindness and refused to accept from him his passage money. The presence of Don Pedro is alone enough to disprove the charge of misanthropy. Besides are we justified in identifying Gulliver with swift? Gulliver himself is often the victim of comic humour, when he returns home he feels disgusted with his own wife and family, he erects his residence in stables, and neighs like a horse.
He is here the victim of the comic muse rather than the serious reformer of society. In this book, the Anglican clergyman appears as a preacher who believes in original sin and ridicules the eighteenth century clad about the perfectibility of man. Louis A. Landa has substantiated the view that Swift’s ‘pessimism is quite consonant with the pessimism at the heart of Christianity. ” She has quoted in support of this view several passages from contemporary sermons. in my opinion”, says another modern critic, :the work is that of a Christian humanist and a moralist who no more blasphemes against the dignity of human nature than do St. Paul and some of the angrier prophets of the Old Testament”. It has been truly observed that his savage indictment of man” arises from philanthropy, not misanthropy, from idealism on what man might be, not from despair at what he is”. By P. Baburaj, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of English, Sherubtse college, Bhutan Page 7