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English Literature for Boys and Girls by  H. E. Marshall

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SWIFT—"GULLIVER'S TRAVELS"

[457] DURING the years in which Swift found time to write these playful letters to Stella he was growing into a man of power. Like Defoe he was a journalist, but one of far more authority. The power of his pen was such that he was courted by his friends, feared by his enemies. He threw himself into the struggle of party, first as a Whig, then as a Tory; but as a friend said of him later, "He was neither Whig nor Tory, neither Jacobite nor Republican. He was Dr. Swift." He was now, he says:—

"Grown old in politicks and wit,

Caress'd by ministers of State,

Of half mankind the dread and hate."

And he felt that he deserved reward for what he had done for his party. He thought that he should have been made a bishop. But even in those days, when little thought was given to the fitness of a man for such a position, the Queen steadily refused to make the author of A Tale of a Tub  a bishop.

Again Swift felt that he was unjustly treated, and even when he was at length made Dean of St. Patrick's that consoled him little. He longed for power, and owned that he was never so happy as when treated like a lord. He longed for wealth, for "wealth," he said, "is liberty, and liberty is a blessing fittest for a philosopher." And if Swift was displeased at being made only a Dean, the Irish people [458] were equally displeased with him as their Dean. As he rode through the streets of Dublin to take possession of his Deanery, the people threw stones and mud at him and hooted him as he passed. The clergy, too, made his work as Dean as hard as possible. But Swift set himself to conquer them, and soon he had his own way even in trifles.

We cannot follow Swift through all his political adventures and writings. In those days the misgovernment of Ireland was terrible, and Swift, although he loved neither Ireland nor the Irish, fought for their rights until, from being hated by them, he became the idol of the people, and those who had thrown mud and stones now cheered him as he passed. Wherever he went he was received with honor, his birthday was kept as a day of rejoicing by Irishmen with gratitude. But even in his hour of triumph Swift was a lonely and discontented man as we may learn from his letters.

It was now that he published the book upon which his fame most surely rests—Gulliver's Travels. It is a book which has given pleasure to numberless people ever since. Yet Swift said himself: "The chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it, and if I could compass that design without hurting my own person or fortune, I would be the most indefatigable writer you have ever seen. . . . I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. . . . Upon this great foundation of misanthropy, the whole building of my Travels  is erected."

But whether Swift at the time vexed the world with Gulliver  or not, ever since he has succeeded in diverting it. Gulliver's Travels  is an allegory and a satire, but there is no need now to do more than enjoy it as a story.

The story is divided into four parts. In the first [459] Captain Lemuel Gulliver being wrecked finds himself upon an island where all the people are so small that he can pick them up in his thumb and finger, and it requires six hundred of their beds to make one for him.

In the second part Gulliver comes to a country where the people are giants. They are so large that they in their turn can lift Gulliver up between thumb and finger.

In the third voyage Gulliver is taken by pirates and at last lands upon a flying island, and from there he passes on to other wonderful places.

In the fourth his men mutiny and put him ashore on an unknown land. There he finds that horses are the rulers, and a terrible kind of degraded human being their slaves and servants.

In the last part the satire is too bitter, the degradation of man too terribly insisted upon to make it pleasant reading, and altogether the first two stories are the most interesting.

Here is how Swift tells us of Gulliver's arrival in Lilliput, the country of the tiny folk. After the shipwreck and a long battle with the waves he has at length reached land:—

"I lay down on the grass, which was very short and soft, where I slept sounder than ever I remember to have done in my life, and, as I reckoned, about nine hours; for when I awaked, it was just daylight. I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir: for as I happened to lie on my back, I found my arms and legs were strongly fastened on each side to the ground; and my hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner.

"I could only look upwards, the sun began to grow hot, and the light offended my eyes. I heard a confused noise about me, but in the posture I lay, could see nothing except the sky. In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when bending [460] my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and a quiver at his back.

"In the meantime, I felt at least fifty more of the same kind (as I conjectured) following the first. I was in the utmost astonishment, and roared so loud, that they all ran back in a fright; and some of them, as I was afterwards told, were hurt with the falls they got by leaping from my sides upon the ground. However, they soon returned, and one of them, who ventured so far as to get a full sight of my face, lifting up his hands and eyes by way of admiration, cried out in a shrill, but distinct voice, Hekinah degul: the others repeated the same words several times, but then I knew not what they meant.

"I lay all this while, as the reader may believe, in great uneasiness: at length, struggling to get loose, I had the fortune to break the strings, and wrench out the pegs that fastened my left arm to the ground; for, by lifting it up to my face, I discovered the methods they had taken to bind me, and at the same time with a violent pull, which game me excessive pain, I a little loosened the strings that tied down my hair on the left side, so that I was just able to turn my head about two inches.

"But the creatures ran off a second time, before I could seize them; whereupon there was a great shout in a very shrill accent, and after it ceased, I heard one of them cry aloud Tolgo phonac; when in an instant I felt above an hundred arrows discharged on my left hand, which pricked me like so many needles; and besides, they shot another flight into the air, as we do bombs in Europe, whereof many, I suppose, fell on my body (though I felt them not) and some on my face, which I immediately covered with my left hand.

"When this shower of arrows was over, I fell a-groaning with grief and pain, and then striving again to get loose, [461] they discharged another volley larger than the first, and some of them attempted with spears to stick me in the sides, but, by good luck, I had on a buff jerkin, which they could not pierce."

Gulliver decided that the best thing he could do was to lie still until night came and then, having his left hand already loose, he would soon be able to free himself. However, he did not need to wait so long, for very soon, by orders of a mannikin, who seemed to have great authority over the others, his head was set free. The little man then made a long speech, not a word of which Gulliver understood, but he replied meekly, showing by signs that he had no wicked intentions against the tiny folk and that he was also very hungry.

"The Hurgo  (for so they call a great lord, as I afterwards learnt) understood me very well. He commanded that several ladders should be applied to my sides, on which above an hundred of the inhabitants mounted and walked towards my mouth, laden with baskets full of meat, which had been provided and sent thither by the King's orders, upon the first intelligence he received of me. I observed there was the flesh of several animals, but could not distinguish them by the taste. There were shoulders, legs, and loins, shaped like those of mutton, and very well dressed, but smaller than the wings of a lark. I ate them by two or three at a mouthful, and took three loaves at a time, about the bigness of musket bullets. They supplied me as fast as they could, showing a thousand marks of wonder and astonishment at my bulk and appetite. I then made another sign that I wanted to drink. They found by my eating, that a small quantity would not suffice me; and being a most ingenious people, they slung up with great dexterity one of their largest hogsheads, then rolled it towards my hand, and beat out the top; I drank it off at a draught, which I might well do, for it did not hold half [462] a pint, and tasted like a small wine of Burgundy, but much more delicious. They brought me a second hogshead, which I drank in the same manner, and made signs for more, but they had none to give me. When I had performed these wonders, they shouted for joy, and danced upon my breast, repeating several times as they did at first Hekinah degul."

And now having introduced you and Gulliver to the Lilliputians, I must leave you to hear about his further adventures among them from the book itself. There you will learn how Gulliver received his freedom, and how he lived happily among the little people until at length Swift falls upon the quaint idea of having him impeached for treason. Gulliver then, hearing of this danger, escapes, and after a few more adventures arrives at home.

As a contrast to what you have just read you may like to hear of Gulliver's first adventures in Brobdingnag, the land of giants. Gulliver had been found by a farmer and carried home. When the farmer's wife first saw him "she screamed and ran back, as women in England do at the sight of a toad or a spider." However, when she saw that he was only a tiny man, she soon grew fond of him.

"It was about twelve at noon, and a servant brought in dinner. It was only one substantial dish of meat (fit for the plain condition of a husbandman) in a dish of about four-and-twenty foot diameter. The company were the farmer and his wife, three children, and an old grand-mother. When they were sat down, the farmer placed me at some distance from him on the table, which was thirty foot high from the floor. I was in a terrible fright, and kept as far as I could from the edge for fear of falling. The wife minced a bit of meat, then crumbled some bread on a trencher, and placed it before me. I made her a low bow, took out my knife and fork, and fell to eat, which gave them exceeding delight. The mistress sent her maid for a [463] small dram cup, which held about two gallons, and filled it with drink. I took up the vessel with much difficulty in both hands, and in a most respectful manner drank to her ladyship's health, expressing the words as loud as I could in English, which made the company laugh so heartily, that I was almost deafened with the noise. . . .

"In the midst of dinner, my mistress's favourite cat leapt into her lap. I heard a noise behind me like that of a dozen stocking-weavers at work; and turning my head, I found it proceeded from the purring of this animal, who seemed to be three times larger than an ox, as I computed by the view of her head, and one of her paws, while her mistress was feeding and stroking her. The fierceness of this creature's countenance altogether discomposed me; though I stood at the further end of the table, above fifty foot off; and although my mistress held her fast for fear she might give a spring, and seize me in her talons. But it happened there was no danger; for the cat took not the least notice of me when my master placed me within three yards of her. And as I have been always told, and found true by experience in my travels, that flying, or discovering fear before a fierce animal, is a certain way to make it pursue or attack you, so I resolved in this dangerous juncture to show no manner of concern. I walked with intrepidity five or six times before the very head of the cat, and came within half a yard of her; whereupon she drew herself back, as if she were more afraid of me."

When it was published Gulliver's Travels  was at once a great success. Ten days after it appeared, two poets wrote to Swift that "the whole town, men, women, and children are quite full of it."

For nearly twenty years longer Swift lived, then sad to say the life of the man who wrote for us these fascinating tales closed in gloom without relief. Stella, his life-long friend, died. That left him forlorn and desolate. Then, as [464] the years passed, darker and darker gloom settled upon his spirit. Disease crept over both mind and body, he was tortured by pain, and when at length the pain left him he sank into torpor. It was not madness that had come upon him, but a dumb stupor. For more than two years he lived, but it was a living death. Without memory, without hope, the great genius had become the voiceless ruin of a man. But at length a merciful end came. On an October day in 1745 Swift died. He who had torn his own heard with restless bitterness, who had suffered and caused others to suffer, had at last found rest.

He was buried at dead of night in his own cathedral and laid by Stella's side, and over his grave were carved words chosen by himself which told the wayfarer that Jonathan Swift had gone "Where savage indignation can no longer tear at his heart. Go, wayfarer, and imitate, if thou canst, a man who did all a man may do as a valiant champion of liberty."


BOOKS TO READ


Stories of Gulliver, by J. Lang.

Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver's Travels  (Everyman's Library).

NOTE:—These two last are both the same text and are illustrated by A. Rackham. It is the edition in Temple Classics for Young People that is recommended, not that in the Temple Classics.


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