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Gulliver's Travels (1726), a satire of man; the most original, most carefully finished, and most characteristic of his works; a production entirely unique in English literature. It is the journal of a voyager, who, like De Foe in Crusoe, describes in cool, serisible, and simple faith the events and sights which he has seen.
In his first voyage, he is carried to the empire of the Pygmies, where the people are but six inches high, and surrounding objects correspondingly diminutive; in his second, he is carried to the empire of Giants, where the people are sixty feet high or upwards, and other existences proportionately vast; in his third, he is taken to several fantastic countries, of which one, a flying island, is inhabited by philosophers and mathematicians, another by wretches who, without intellects or affections, are doomed to a bodily immortality; in his fourth, he is carried to a region whose people are hardly distinguishable from brutes:
• At last I beheld several animals in a field, and one or two of the same kind sitting in trees. Their shape was very singular and deformed. ... They climbed high trees as nimbly as a squirrel, for they had strong extended claws before and behind, terminating in a sharp point, and hooked. . . . Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so great an antipathy.'
How ridiculous are human interests and passions when mirrored in the littleness of the Pigmy world! How vain are our desires, how insignificant our pursuits, when tried by the standard of a mightier race! What is a lawyer but a hired liar, who per
a verts the truth if he is an advocate, and sells it if he is a judge ? What is a legislator but a compound of idleness and vice? What is a noble but a diseased rake and rascal ? What is sentiment but folly, and weakness? What are science, art, and religion, but cloaks which veil the ugliness of human nature ? Brutes that tear each other with their talons, that howl, and grin, and chatter, and wallow in the mud,—these are the final abstract of manof his instincts, of his ambitions, of his hopes. Nay, they are better, for our species 'is the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl on the face of the earth. This book is the expression of Swift,—the assembly of all his talent and all his passion; so picturesque, so romantic, so melancholy, so mocking and fiendish at last, yet so coolly and simply told, that criticism was for a time lost in wonder.
A Modest Proposal (1731); a scheme to prevent the children of the Irish poor from becoming a burden to their parents or
country, and to make them beneficial to the public. The scheme is, that the children should be sold and eaten as food!
'I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled.' He enters gravely into calculation:
'A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day. I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive mcat.' This hideous treatise, so shudderingly calm, seems fit to have been the expiring cry of his genius and his despair.
Thoughts on Various Subjects, of which the following are characteristic and suggestive specimens, models of form and nuggets of wisdom :
•We have just religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.'
When a true genius appeareth in the world, you may know him by this infallible sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.'
“The reason why so few marriages are happy, is because young ladies spend their time in making nets, not in making cages.'
•No wise man ever wished to be younger.' A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.'
‘Complaint is the largest tribute Heaven receives, and the sincerest part of our devotion.'
“The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off onr desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.'
The common fluency of speech in many men and most women is owing to a scarcity of matter and scarcity of words: for whoever is a master of language, and hath a mind full of ideas, will be apt, in speaking, to hesitate upon the choice of both; whereas common speakers have only one set of ideas, and one set of words to clothe them in, and these are already at the mouth. So people come faster out of a church when it is almost empty, than when a crowd is at the door.'
Style.—Simple, plain, pure, rugged, vigorous, Saxon. Without ornament, it is rich in the variety of its words and phrases. Always understanding himself, he was always understood by others. He illustrates admirably an important principle of composition,—that, when a man has stamped upon his mind all the parts and joints of his subject, and is confident of his cause, he. has only to resist the temptation to write finely, in order to write effectively.
Rank.-In originality and strength he has no superior, and in irony no equal. He had the genius of insult, as Shakespeare
of poetry. Unscrupulous sarcasm and vituperation, crushing logic, knowledge of men and life, vehement expression, made him the most formidable pamphleteer that ever lived. He was deficient in refinement of taste and loftiness of imagination, and lacked the nobility of nature to become a true poet, philosopher, or reformer. The grandeurs of the human spirit escaped him. Palpable and familiar objects, common words, common things, were the sources of his inspiration. Several peculiarities contributed to produce his effect,-skilful minuteness of narrative; power to give to fiction the air of truth; the habit of expressing sentiments, the most absurd or atrocious, as sober commonplaces; of relating the most ludicrous and extravagant fancies with an invincible gravity.
As a man, he is the most tragic figure in our literature.
Character.-Haughty and magisterial, with an overwhelming sense of superiority, seeming to consider himself exempt from the necessity of ceremony, and entitled to the homage of all, without distinction of sex, rank, or fame. While a simple journalist, he demanded an apology of the prime minister, received it, and wrote: 'I have taken Mr. Harley into favor again.' Warned the Secretary of State never to appear cold to him, for he wouldn't be treated like a school-boy. Invited to dine with the Earl of Burlington, he said to the mistress of the house: “Lady Burlington, I hear you can sing ; sing me a song.' The lady resented his freedom, and he said she should sing or he would make her. “Why, madam, I suppose you, take me for one of your poor English hedge-parsons; sing when I bid you !' Unable to control her vexation, she burst into tears and retired. Meeting her afterward, he inquired : ‘Pray, madam, are you as proud and ill-natured now as when I saw you last ?' Writing to the Duchess of Queensbury, he says:
*I am glad you know your duty; for it has been a known and established rule about twenty years in England, that the first advances have been constantly made me by all the ladies who aspired to my acquaintance, and the greater their quality, the greater were their advances.' Tells Stella, with a vengeful joy:
'I generally am acquainted with about thirty in the drawing-room, and am so proud that I make all the lords come up to me. One' passes half an hour pleasantly enough.'
Possibly he expected this to be received as his peculiar mode of jocularity. Pope, one of his few friends, has preserved us a specimen of his humor:
''Tis so odd, that there's no describing it but by facts. I'll tell you one that first comes into my head. One evening Gay and I went to see him; you know how intimately we were all acquainted. On our coming in, “Heyday, gentlemen" (says the Doctor), “what's the meaning of this visit? How came you to leave the great lords that you are so fond of, to come hither to see a poor Dean!” “Because we would rather see you than any of them.” “Ay, anyone that did not know you so well as I do might believe you. But since you are come, I must get some supper for you, I suppose.” “No, Doctor, we have supped already.” “Supped already? that's impossible! why, 'tis not eight o'clock yet. That's very strange; but if you had not supped, I must have got something for you. Let me see, what should I have had? A couple of lobsters; ay, that would have done very well: two shillings - tarts, a shilling: but you will drink a glass of wine with me, though you supped so much before your usual time only to spare my pocket?” “No, we had rather talk with you than drink with you.” “But if you had supped with me, as in all reason you ought to have done, you must then have drank with me. A bottle of wine, two shillings — two and two is four, and one is five; just two and sixpence apiece, There, Pope, there's half a crown for you, and there's another for you, sir; for I won't save anything by you, I am determined." This was all said and done with his usual seriousness on such occasions; and in spite of everything we could say to the contrary, he actually obliged us to take the money.'
He was minutely critical and exacting. Once when he dined alone with the Earl of Orrery, he said of a waiter in the room: “That man has, since we sat to the table, committed fifteen faults.'
He was constitutionally incapable of religion - incapable from a vulgar temperament. Joy is wanting, save the joy of tearing. The idea of the beautiful seldom or never enters.
He delights in images that repel a refined taste. But, though coarse, he is never licentious; his grossness is repulsive, not seductive. He spent his days in discontent, in a rebellion of wounded pride and unsatisfied desire. All suffering seems colorless beside the deep, long agony of his soul. ,
Influence.—He agitated kingdoms, stirred the laughter and rage of millions, and left to posterity memorials (Gulliver and Tale of a Tub) that will perish only with the English language. His satire will furnish food for profitable reflection; his romance will continue to amuse, doing the good that mere pleasure can do; but anything beyond? Did he give any impulse to holiness? Did he feel the burden of souls? Do his writings breathe a wish or prayer for personal perfection? In his philosophy of life were two fundamental evils, either of which must, at the outset, prove fatal to the highest order of influence,- a vulgar materialism, and a bitter misanthropy. He never rose above the
mercenary practical — his views were always directed to what was immediately beneficial, which is the characteristic of savages; man, to him, was a knave and a fool. Perhaps, therefore, his chief service to us, as his chief legacy to the race, is indirect,the warning spectacle of his powerful and mournful genius, with its tempest of hopes and hatreds. It is a theme on which the lightest heart might moralize. Over his grave, as in the sigh of the wailing wind, we hear the words: Knowledge uninspired by universal love, unleavened by religious depth and earnestness, serves only to inflate with an insolent self-sufficiency and to dry up with a sensual pride; knowledge whose paramount or final end is to gratify curiosity, to flatter vanity, to push for precedence, to minister to ambition, is vanity and vexation of spirit.
He was the poet of personality and of polished life.--Hazlitt. Biography.-Born in London, in 1688, the memorable year of the Revolution. His father was a linen-merchant, who, with a moderate fortune, retired in a few years to a small estate in Windsor Forest. He learned very early to read, and by copying from printed books, taught himself to write. Both parents were Papists. For such trivial elements of a schoolboy's learning as he possessed at all, he was therefore indebted to private tuition. At eight, he was instructed by the family priest in the rudiments of Greek and Latin. Was. next sent to a Romanist seminary, where he lampooned his teacher, was whipped, and removed by his indignant parents. From the scene of his disgrace, he passed under the tuition of several other masters in rapid succession, but with little profit. Scarcely twelve, he resolved to direct himself, formed a plan of study, and executed it with little other incitement than the desire of excellence. His father, though unable to guide him, proposed subjects, obliged him to correct his performances by frequent revisals, and, when satisfied, would say, “These are good rhymes.' His early passion was to be a poet; and he used to say that he could not remember the time when he began to make verses.