Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

“My father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons.”

As Samuel Johnson stated, Gulliver’s Travels is a work “so new and strange, that it filled the reader with a mingled emotion of merriment and amazement.”  One must remember that at the time of Gulliver’s Travels, readers had rarely encountered prose fiction in the form of stories, let along the fantastical stories and adventures of Gulliver.  They didn’t quite know how to respond.

In the last chapter of the this book, its purpose is laid out to the reader, that Swift’s “principal Design was to inform, and not amuse thee.”, a deviation in form, since most medieval writers sought to do both.  The Roman lyric poet, Horace, stated that, “The poet who pleases everyone is the one who blends the useful with the sweet, simultaneously amusing and informing the reader.”  Likewise, Thomas More in his Utopia states that his book is “A Truly Golden Handbook, No Less Beneficial than Entertaining”; Shakespeare seeks also to entertain and instruct, and The Cantebury Tales are described as “tales of best sentence and sola”, expressing the standard medieval definition of literature which both informs and gives pleasure.  So why does Swift no longer want to amuse readers?  Why does he choose to change the medieval model of how literature was represented?  If his readers have not noticed the festering undercurrents of judgement within the story, it’s as if Swift was determined emphasis the seriousness of the work.  As throughout his story, he gives the English people strengths that do not exist, so he also gives the reader amusement, where amusement does not exist.   No wonder people were puzzled by his unique representation.

Born in Dublin  in 1667, Swift spent the early years of his life moving between his hometown and London, attempting to gain a footing both in politics and the Church.  His first position was with Sir William Temple a retired English diplomat who was writing his memoirs.  Swift formed a close relationship with Temple and when he died, Swift hoped to gain a position at Canterbury or Westminister through King William, but the position never materialized.  Amid various other disappointments, Swift continued his travels between Ireland and England, and during these years, he produced A Tale in a Tub and The Battle of the Books, gaining a reputation as a writer.  Gulliver’s Travels was published later in his career, in 1726.

Mural depicting Gulliver surrounded by
the citizens of Lilliput
source Wikipedia

Episodic in nature, Gulliver’s Travels follows Lemuel Gulliver as he visits various unknown civilizations and learns their ways while gently comparing their societies with those of his own.  I say gently because Gulliver makes his musings appear as a gentle examination, but Swift has other ideas. One doesn’t have to look very hard to see that this work is a sweeping condemnation of the human race.

Gulliver first lands in Lilliput where the society is diminutive in stature compared to Gulliver’s enormity.  Initially accepted by the Lilliputians because of his good behaviour, he eventually upsets them by refusing to help them conquer another province and he is forced to escape.

Gulliver exhibited to the Brobdingnag
Farmer – Richard Redgrave
source Wikipedia

His second adventure is nearly an inversion of the first, in that this time Gulliver is small and, landing in Brobdingnag, soon realizes the gigantic features of its inhabitants.  While being poorly treated by his first family, Gulliver eventually comes to the Queen who treats him reasonably well and he is able to converse with the King.  The King, however, becomes unhappy with his description of the state of Europe, in particular their use of guns and cannons.

Gulliver discovers Laputa,
the flying island
J.J. Granville
source Wikipedia

The next adventure includes the flying island of Laputa, which is a rather bizarre place.  The inhabitants are devotees of the arts of mathematics and music only, but not only fail to employ them for any benefit to society, they also, through self-deception, are blindly unable to recognize their failures.

The land of the Houyhnhnms is Gulliver’s fourth and final stop, a land of wise and noble horses, but he also encounters a race called Yahoos, a race very much like himself yet more filthy, vulgar, bestial and stupid.  Although they at first recognize him as a Yahoo, the Houyhnhnms finally take to Gulliver, impressed with his cleanliness and ability to reason.  Yet in spite of the relational ties he makes in this land and his desire to remain among these highly civilized beasts, the horses foresee a danger in Gulliver’s presence and send him off in a boat.  When he arrive home, our protagonist is a changed man.  Disgusted with the “Yahoos” of his country, he is barely able to live in their company, finally choosing a rather secluded life.

Gulliver taking final leave of
the Houyhnhnms (1769)
Sawrey Gilpin
source Wikipedia

Through Gulliver’s interaction with the Liliputans and the Brobdingnagans, Swift satirizes British politics.  The Liliputans are only concerned with petty and trivial problems, and in their self-aggrandization can only see themselves as governors of the whole world.  Yet while Liliput represents a small view of man, Brobdingnag represents a large one.  As in Liliput, Swift explores the contrasts between liberty and law, but now the situation is reversed as Gulliver is in miniature in a land of giants.  The island of Laputa is built upon philosophy and it’s inhabitants are seen as Swift’s critque of scientism, or that the only way to true knowledge is through scientific disciplines.  Only what can be seen and measured is taken into account, but, of course, this leaves no room to examine the soul.  The land of the Houyhnhnms is perhaps the most fascinating part of the voyages.  In this land the beasts are the civilized society and the Yahoos, who are human, are savages.  The Houyhnhnms live by reason and that reason, working within nature, give rise to their idyllic existence.  Gulliver believes that if he lives long enough with his friends, this virtue will rub off on him, but in fact the horses see his reason as imperfect and therefore he is more dangerous than a Yahoo who has no reason at all.  In reality, Gulliver is half-way between both species, halfway between pure passion and pure reason.

Apparently both Sir Walter Scott and William Thackeray were shocked and repulsed by Gulliver’s fourth voyage, yet there is still argument as to whether Swift’s work was a satire in the form of Horace, where he is only lightly satirizing Gulliver’s idealism, or the heavier satire of Juvenal, whereupon his writing is a vitriolic, sarcastic diatribe condemning the human race.  I’ll leave it to the reader to decide.  Yet perhaps Swift himself can shed light on his intentions:

“I have ever hated all Nations professions and Communityes and all my love is towards individualls for instance I hate the tribe of Lawyers, but I love Councellor such a one, and Judge such a one for so with Physicians (I will not speak of my own trade) Soldiers, English, Scotch, French; and the rest but principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I hartily love John, Peter, Thomas and so forth.  This is the system upon which I have governed myself for many years (but do not tell) and so I shall go on until I have done with them I have got materials toward a treatise, proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale [rational animal], and to show it would be only rationis capax [capable of reason].  Upon this great foundation of Misanthropy (though not in Timon’s manner) The whole building of my Travells is erected.  And I will never have peace of mind until all honest men are of my Opinion.”

While I thought Swift’s satire brilliant, and his characterizations mostly just, I felt that he focused only on the negative aspects of human nature.  If Swift really saw the world only through a lense of disappointment, treachery, selfishness, and deceit, yet missed the integrity, loyalty, virtues and goodwill of the flip-side of human nature, that is truly a tragedy.

Read for my Classics Club Spin #8, Fariba from Exploring Classics joined me in reading this one.  Here is her most excellent review.  Thanks for the company, Fariba!

(And further reflections by Fariba on Gulliver’s Travels)

A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

A Red, Red Rose
courtesy of Scott Branson (Flickr)
Creative Commons

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns 
(1794)
My love is like a red, red rose
   That’s newly sprung in June :
My love is like the melody
   That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
   So deep in love am I :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
   Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
   While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only love,
   And fare thee weel a while !
And I will come again, my love,
   Thou’ it were ten thousand mile.

Robert Burns Portrait (1787)
by Alexander Naysmith
source Wikipedia

This is my first choice for the Deal Me In Challenge.  It is a poem put to song based on a familiar song that Burns had heard.  It’s structured in four quatrains (four-line stanzas).  Using similes and hyperbole, the writer expresses his great love for a fair, “bonnie lass” and the poem’s repetition enforces his feelings.  Initially he likens his love to a rose, a melody, and then declares the endurance of that love.  At the end of the poem it seems the writer has to go away for awhile, which is perhaps why he has written the poem. so that his sweetheart will know the strength of his feelings and of his constancy.

So far my favourite Burns poem is To A Mouse, but I really appreciate the straight-forward honesty of this one.  I’m so used to little teasings and wittiness from Burns, but this poem is quite delightful!

And for Marianne, here is the poem put to music (the poem begins at about 0:40, for those who don’t like long introductions):

Deal Me In Challenge – Queen of Diamonds #1

Montaigne’s Essays – Part Two

Oh, Montaigne!  The more of his essays that I read, the more I like him.  He’s inquisitive, does not let anything get in the way of giving his opinion on absolutely any subject, has a clever but disordered mind, and because of the last point, really makes you engage your brain as you read.  I would have loved to meet him in real life, but, I get the impression that we’d probably have occasionally annoyed each other.  

Some of the readings for this section were:

On The Vanity of Words:  After reading Montaigne’s essay On Education, I suppose this attack on rhetoricians can’t come as much of a surprise.  To be eloquent is to foster a type of deception, and Montaigne is scathing in his condemnation of it.

Cicero & the magistrates disovering the
tomb of Archimedes
Benjamin West
source Wikiart

On the Inconsistancy of Our Actions:  This one is very interesting. Montaigne laments the inconsistency of men, stating that instead of following a path to wisdom throughout their lives, they are ruled solely by their appetites, living for the here-and-now and are merely motivated by opportunity, very much like animals. They blow with the winds.  He gives various examples on inconstancy, leading us to believe that consistency as Montaigne defines it, is virtually impossible.  One must plan one’s life to the utmost and follow the course, not being swayed by emotions or outside forces to be consistent and, as Cicero says, “For nothing can be consistent that has not reason for its foundation.”  Therefore, in Montaigne’s eyes, everyone is lacking true reason.  This is one of the few essays that I’ve read so far where Montaigne actually managed to keep on track with his subject.  Bravo!  This is certainly one of my favourites.

On Conscience:  Even if one finds pleasure in their vices, their conscience will always convict them, says Montaigne.  With one of his usual unexpected leaps of thought, he discusses the futility of torture, labelling it a means of testing endurance rather than a means to ferret out truth.  He uses some fun examples in this one, my favourite being Scipio tearing up his account books before the court when accused of dishonesty with regard to the money entrusted to him.  According to Montaigne, his actions declared him an honest man because his big heart could not bear to be accused of such a vulgar crime. Perhaps one should be grateful that Montaigne did not choose to be a judge as his profession.

Portrait d’un homme portant un exemplaire des
Essais de Montaigne
Johann Anton de Peters
source Wikiart

On Rewards for Honour:  Basically I understood that Montaigne feels that rewards should not be given out too liberally or their value is decreased. He’d rather not give out rewards at all, than have too many people get them.  Not a very modern viewpoint, Montaigne, when we presently strive to give everyone a reward for anything.  I tend to side here with Montaigne.

On Books:  Montaigne employs a coyness in this essay, stating that he reads books for pleasure only and has little desire to truly exercise his brain.  His goals in reading are to learn to know himself, and to learn to live and die well. His self-deprecation is quite startling as he confesses to having little knowledge and once again admits to having a poor memory.  Elaborating on his poor memory, he ends by giving a number of examples of literary criticism (not his title for it) that he has written at the ends of books, so if he picks them up again, he is able to ascertain why he liked them or not, and if he would read them again.

On Presumption:  It is not good to think too highly of ourselves, nor is it beneficial to think of ourselves worse than we are.  Montaigne advocates for balance and a practical self-knowledge.  Yet Man has such a variety of differing opinions, there is a “maze of obscurity” which makes the school of Wisdom uncertain, and this gets on Montaigne’s nerves.  He then meanders through a lovely forest of subjects, from self-deprecating statements to mediocre poetry to appearances of famous men, etc., finally ending with his disdain for modern education, in that it teaches learning instead of wisdom and goodness.

” It seems to me that the nursing mother of the most erroneous ideas, both of men in general and of the individual, is the exaggerated opinion man has of himself.”


On Giving the Lie:  Montaigne indulges in more modesty (false-modesty?) and finally gets to the title of the essay, lamenting that lying has been turned into a virtue by modern society.  He strongly condemns it:

“Lying is an ugly vice, which is painted in its most shameful colours by an ancient writer (Lysander) when he says that ‘to lie is evidence that we despise God and at the same time fear men.'”

To be honest, I feel that Montaigne could have benefited highly from the type of education that he despised, however, then he wouldn’t have been Montaigne and only another highly intellectual rhetorician with the same habits as all other rhetoricians.  And our Montaigne is unique, that is certain!  Not always simple to follow, but unique!


Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

“It is a most remarkable thing.  I sat down with the full intention of writing something clever and original; but for the life of me I can’t think of anything clever and original — at least — not at this moment.”

Jerome K. Jerome is an author best known for his comic travelogue, Three Men in a Boat, which I highly recommend as it is totally hilarious. Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow is a collection of essays; written with Jerome’s signature witty reparteé and lively humour, the essays are titled:

  1. On Being Hard Up
  2. On Being in the Blue
  3. On Vanity and Vanities
  4. On Getting On in the World
  5. On Being Idle
  6. On Being In Love
  7. On the Weather
  8. On Cats and Dogs
  9. On Being Shy
  10. On Babies
  11. On Eating and Drinking
  12. On Furnished Apartments
  13. On Dress and Deportment
  14. On Memory

Yet while Jerome’s anecdotes are amusing and give the reader a good chuckle, he also imparts wisdom to his writing.  In On Vanity and Being Vain, he, at first, pokes fun at the vanity of all men, but concludes that we all must be vain in the right manner.

“Let us be vain, not of our trousers and hair, but of brave hearts and working hands, of truth , of purity, of nobility.  Let us be too vain to stoop to aught that is mean or base, too vain for petty selfishness and little-minded envy, too vain to say an unkind world or do an unkind act.  Let us be vain of being single-hearted, upright gentlemen in the midst of a world of knaves.  Let us pride ourselves upon thinking high thoughts, achieving great deeds, living good lives.”

First Edition, 1886

Jerome also uses wonderfully descriptive sentences, that weave a vibrant and idyllic world around the reader:

“And oh, how dainty is spring —- Nature at sweet eighteen!  When the little, hopeful leaves peep out so fresh and green, so pure and bright, like young lives pushing shyly out into the bustling world; when the fruittree blossoms, pink and white, like village maidens in the Sunday frocks, hide each whitewashed cottage in a cloud of fragile splendor; and the cuckoo’s note upon the breeze is wafted through the woods!  And summer, with its deep, dark green, and drowsy hum — when the rain-drops whisper solemn secrets to the listening leaves, and the twilight lingers in the lanes! ….”

And, of course, one can’t say enough of his humour:

“But that’s just the way.  I never do get particularly fond of anything in this world, but what something dreadful happens to it.  I had a tame rat when I was a boy, and I loved that animal as only a boy would love an old water rat; and, one day, it fell into a large dish of gooseberry-fool that was standing to cool in the kitchen, and nobody knew what become of the poor creature until the second helping.”

If you want a book to make you feel good, read a book by Jerome K. Jerome. His writing is refreshing, light, profound, humorous, beautiful, timeless and educational, all at the same time.  And you won’t stop laughing!

Deal Me In Challenge List 2015

Happy New Year all!  My first post for the year is a list of Short Stories, Essays, Poems and Children’s Books for my 2015 Deal Me In Challenge.

THE LIST:

Clubs – Short Stories
A –  Cabbages and Kings – O’Henry
2 – The Runaway – Chekhov
4 – Le Horla – de Maupassant
5 – The Tell-Tale Heart – Poe
8 – A Little Woman – Kafka
9 –  A Haunted House – Woolf
10 – The Birds – Chekhov
J –  The Yellow Wallpaper – Gilman
Q – The Eyes – Wharton
K –   Signs and Symbols – Nabakov
Spades – Essays
A – Milton – Williams
3 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Chesterton
6 – Hamlet : The Prince or the Poem – Lewis
7 –  Monsters and the Middle Ages – Chesterton
8 – The World of Tomorrow – E.B. White
9 – Discipline and Hope, Means as Ends – Berry
10 – Sense – Lewis
J – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community – Berry
Q – Different Tastes in Literature – Lewis
K – Vulgarity – Chesterton
Diamonds – Poetry
2 –  Gesang Der Geister Über Den Wassern – Goethe
3 – The Morning of Life – Hugo
5 – A Lover’s Complaint – Shakespeare
6 – Resolution and Independence – Wordsworth
8 – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Thomas
9 – Ode to a Grecian Urn – Keats
10 – Tears, Idle Tears – Tennyson
K – Phoenix and the Turtle – Shakespeare
Hearts – Children’s Classic
2 – Three Greek Children – Church
3 – The Mysterious Benedict Society – Stewart
5 – Journey from Peppermint Street – deJong
6 – The Tanglewood’s Secret – St. John
7 – The Wolves of Willoughy Chase – Aiken
9 – Sprig of Broom – Willard
10 – Teddy’s Button – LeFeuvre
J – The Book of Three – Alexander
Q – Tales from Chaucer – Farjeon
K – Beyond the Desert Gate – Ray (2)

Deal Me In Challenge 2015

Okay, only one more challenge ……. really ……….!  Jay at Bibliophilica is having his yearly Deal Me In challenge and it looks like such fun, I couldn’t resist.  I’ve been watching Dale @ Mirror With Clouds participate all last year, and Marianne gave me an idea with a twist for it that should work wonderfully!

The rules are:

What is the goal of the project?
To read 52 short stories in 2015 (that’s only one per week)
What do I need?
1) Access to at least fifty-two short stories (don’t own any short story collections or anthologies? See links to online resources below)
2) A deck of cards
3) An average of perhaps just thirty minutes of reading time each week
Where do I post* about my stories?
(*You don’t have to post about every single story, of course, but if you have something to say about the story you read any given week, your fellow participants would love to hear it.)
1) On your own blog or website if you have one (I will link to your post at the bottom of my weekly post. I currently plan to do my weekly post on Sundays)
2) if you don’t have a blog or website you may comment on my weekly post, sharing thoughts on your own story – or start one at WordPress or blogspot – it’s easy and free to create a basic blog.
How do I pick which stories to read?
(The 52 stories themselves are totally up to you.) Before you get start reading, come up with a roster of fifty-two stories (you can use any source) and assign each one to a playing card in a standard deck of cards. It can be fun to use different suits for different types of stories, but that is optional. Each “week,” (if you’re like me, you may occasionally fall a story or two behind) you draw a card at random from your deck and that is the story you will read. There are links to last year’s participants’ rosters hereif you want to see some examples.
What if I don’t have time to read a story every single week?
Try one of the challenge variations noted below, the Fortnight (or “payday” if you prefer) version is one story every two weeks or the “Full Moon Fever” version with just thirteen stories read or selected on seeing each full moon…
How do I sign up?
Leave a comment below with your URL and I will link you. My first wrap-up post of the year (I post weekly, usually Sunday night or Monday morning) will include links to any new Deal Me In posts and a list of the participants with links to their roster of stories.
What is the purpose?
To have FUN and to be exposed to new authors and stories and maybe get in the habit of reading a short story a week. Isn’t that enough? 🙂


Now I’ve decided to follow Marianne’s lead and adjust the challenge to work for my reading plans for the year.  Part of my plan for 2015 was to try to read more children’s classics, essays and poems for the year, so instead of reading all short stories, I’m going to split it into four categories:  Short Stories, Essays, Poems and Children’s Classics.  
I’m really looking forward to this challenge.  In the next day or so, I’ll post my list of titles corresponding to the playing card deck.  I’m not promising I’ll be able to read all 52 of them, but I’ll certainly do my best!