Swift’s Possible Debt to the Scriblerus Club
Gulliver’s Travels is the most famous of all the works of Swift. The germs of this book have been traced to the celebrated Scriblerus Club which came into existence in the last months of Queen Anne’s reign, when Swift joined with Arbuthnot, Pope, Gay, and a few other writers in a scheme to ridicule all false tastes in learning.This literary group was strongly Tory in character and functioned as a kind of counterbalance to the Whig circle which had grown up about Addison and Steele. The Club was organized in the autumn of 1713. It was proposed that the Club should undertake some sort of joint satiric composition, and finally it was settled that this should take the form of a mock biography of a universal pedant who was given the name “Martinus Scriblerus”. Years were to pass before the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus appeared in print. Pope published it in 1741, but much of it must have been written during the period of the Club’s greatest activity, which fell between February and June 1714. Swift’s part in this joint enterprise has not been definitely established. The sixteenth chapter of the Memoirs as published in 1741 gives an account of Martinus Scriblerus’s travels, four in number. According to Pope, Swift took the first hints for his Gulliver’s Travels from that chapter. However, the connection of Gulliver’s Travels with the original scheme is very slight, and appears chiefly in Part III of the work.
Part III of “Gulliver’s Travels” Written last of All
Swift’s correspondence with some of his friends shows that he was at work on Gulliver’s Travels in 1721, that Parts I and II were finished by the end of 1723 and Part IV by January 1724, and that in the latter year he was engaged on Part III. In August or September 1725 he told Pope that he was correcting and completing the work.
The Date of Publication and the Enormous Success of the Book
The full title of Swift’s famous work is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. The book was published anonymously by the end of October 1726, negotiations with the publishers having been carried on by Swift’s friends, Charles Ford and Erasmus Lewis. The book proved an immediate and tremendous success. In November 1726, Arbuthnot wrote that the book was in everybody’s hands, and that many were led by its verisimilitude to believe that the incidents narrated in the book had really occurred. However, one Irish bishop said that it was full of improbable lies and; for his part, he hardly believed a word of it. The first edition of the book was soon exhausted, and before the end of the year two more were called for. But this was only the beginning. There were further editions in
; two different publishers brought the book out in London ; it was summarized and abridged, serialized in the newspapers, and in course of time translated into French, Dutch, and German. Dublin
The Appeal of the Book to Young Readers
Gulliver’s Travels has not only become a classic as a satire on the human race but also a classic as a children’s book. It has delighted the young people from the day of its earliest appearance. Soon after its publication, Pope and Gay wrote to Swift that the book was being universally read, from the cabinet-council to the nursery. Its appeal to the young people is not difficult to understand. The first two Parts of the book have a certain fairy-tale quality about them. The juvenile imagination readily believes Gulliver’s adventures among the pigmies and the giants. For the adult mind, however, the appeal of the book lies in its serious purpose.
The Object of the Book: “To Vex the World”
Swift had written to Pope that his chief object was to vex the world rather than divert it. What he meant was that he wanted to arouse among his readers a feeling of dissatisfaction with themselves and their fellows for their vices and follies and thus to stimulate them to amend themselves, if possible, in the light of this comic exposure of the faults and shortcomings of mankind. While the book does succeed in vexing, and even disturbing and shocking its readers, there is also much in it to divert and amuse them. The satire is often cruel, and in Part IV it is almost horrifying. But there is plenty of pure fun and comedy in the book also.
Gulliver Not to Be Wholly Identified with Swift
It should be kept in mind that Gulliver is a purely imaginary character, not to be identified with Swift himself. Of course, at many points in the course of the story, Gulliver does serve as a spokesman and mouthpiece for Swift, but at many other points he remains a separate and distinct individual in his own right. In Part IV, especially, Gulliver’s reactions to the Houyhnhnms and his changed attitude towards members of the human race in the closing stages of the story are not at all to be attributed to Swift himself.* Imaginary Voyages by an Imaginary Character
The book has been divided into four parts, describing Gulliver’s voyages to different countries. Just as Gulliver is an imaginary character, so the voyages and the experiences of Gulliver in different lands are also imaginary. And the lands visited by Gulliver are imaginary too (except
). Part I describes Gulliver’s voyage to a country called Lilliput, and his experiences among the Lilliputians (that is, the people inhabiting that country). Part II describes his voyage to Brobdingnag and his experiences in that country. Part III describes his voyage to several countries which include Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan . And Part IV describes his voyage to the country of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. Japan
The Realistic Effect
Apart from Gulliver’s experiences among these different nations, much circumstantial detail is given to us in connection with the different voyages of Gulliver. These details include references to the latitude and longitude of the position of Gulliver’s ship at different times, allusions to geographical locations, and similar other matters which have the effect of lending an air of realism to the story. At the very outset, Gulliver gives some account of himself and his family, and his desire to see the world and visit unknown countries. At the end of every voyage, Gulliver tells us of his return to his family, and here again he gives us certain details to strengthen the realistic effect.
An Allegorical Satire, Intended to Instruct Mankind
Gulliver’s Travels is an allegorical work. In other words, everything in it cannot be taken literally except by children. The mature reader will understand that Swift has a serious moral purpose in writing these accounts of the voyages of Gulliver to different lands. An allegory conveys its meaning in a veild and hidden manner, not in an obvious manner. In other words, the real meaning in an allegory does not lie on the surface but is hidden below the surface which we must probe. Swift is here mocking at the way human beings behave. We find in the book a merciless exposure of different categories and classes of people-kings, queens, politicians, lawyers, physicians, scientists, and others. There is hardly any institution in the civilized life of the European countries that escapes the scrutiny and the scathing criticism of Swift. Much of the condemnation of human society and human institutions is expressed in comic terms, but much of it is offensive and corrosive. In Part IV especially, the satire and the condemnation become extremely indignant, and are insulting to the human race. As a commentator points out, to amuse was not Swift’s sole object. His other object was to instruct the race of mankind by a witty exposure of human follies, absurdities, errors, defects, etc.
The Voyage to Lilliput in Part I
In the voyage to Lilliput, religious and political divisions are humorously burlesqued. The folly of political and religious fanatics is exposed with reference to the, constant quarrels between the High-Heels and the Low-Heels, and between the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians, in which the blood of thousands of people has been shed. Besides rejections of a general nature, the voyage to Lilliput contains particular allusions to the royal court and the politics of
. Sir Robert Walpole is caricatured as Flimnap; the High-Heels and Low-Heels, represent the political parties of Tories and Whigs; the Big-Endians, and the Little-Endians represent the religious sects of Catholics and Protestants. When the emperor’s heels are described as lower than those of anybody else at the court, the reference is to the preference shown by King George I to the Whigs. Many other allusions may also be traced. In addition to all this, some of Gulliver’s remarks, on the institutions of Lilliput serve as useful comments upon the legal policy of his own country, England : for instance, when he mentions that the Lilliputians treated fraud as a greater crime than theft, and alludes to their policy in rewarding merit as well as punishing vice. England
The Voyage to Brobdingnag in Part II
In the voyage to Brobdingnag, Swift turns the opposite end of the telescope, and shows us in what manner a people of immense stature, and gifted with a sound and cool judgment, look at the principles and politics of
Europe. In this Part of the book the satire is of a more general nature; there are few particular references to political events; and no circumstances are mentioned which are not applicable to all places. While Lilliput was a land inhabited by pigmies or dwarfs, Brobdingnag is the land of giants or of persons of an immense stature.
The Voyage to Laputa in Part III
In the voyage to Laputa, the satire is aimed at the abuses of science. The targets here are those projectors who, leaving their common sense behind them, wander into the vast regions of speculative philosophy. It must be borne in mind that the satire is not aimed at true science but at its abuses.
The Voyage to the Land of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos in Part IV
The satire contained in the voyage to the Houyhnhnms in Part IV is more intense than in any of the earlier voyages. This voyage exhibits mankind in a light too degraded for contemplation, and the satire is too exaggerated. However, if the picture of the Yahoos is disgusting, that is exactly what the author intended. But, the author has failed to make the portrayal of the Houyhnhnms to be very attractive or inviting as he aimed at doing. The representation of the Houyhnhnms is cold and insipid. These beings have their virtues, but these virtues are all negative. The Houyhnhnms, are devoid of all those tender passions and affections without which life becomes a burden. No doubt these beings possess some noble virtues and even some splendid accomplishments. For instance, in poetry they excel all animals; and they have exalted notions of friendship and benevolence. In spite of all this, the Houyhnhnms somehow fail to appeal to us as models of perfection.