A master satirist, Jonathan Swift was something of a misanthrope. An amiable one, but one who detested mankind. Still, undaunted, he wrote in a stubborn hope that people could be stung, stabbed, and whipped into better sense. Three-hundred years later, our thick skin has proven marvelously resilient….
Not really suitable for the children’s market. All that obsession with urination and defecation. Yet, children seem innately attracted to Gulliver’s Travels. Evidently, some things clearly have to be expurgated from the texts. A prodigal child may be more amused than shocked by the spectacle of Gulliver putting out a blaze in the Lilliputian imperial palace by a good long pee, but there is something more dubious when the hero travels on to the land of the gigantic Brobdingnagians, and the maid of honor puts him stripped naked “astride upon one of her nipples.” Or, in Balnibari, on the next voyage, about the scientist whose project is “to reduce human excrement to its original food, by separating the several parts, removing the tincture which it receives from the gall, making the odor exhale, and scumming off the saliva.” Or, finally, in Houyhnhnmland, the country of noble horses, about the activities of the repulsive, apelike animals called Yahoos, whose regular pursuits almost all involve the genitoexcretory region.
The whole question would likely have profoundly irritated Swift. After all, he did not like children too much, and he certainly did not write his book for them. “Not to be fond of children, nor let them come near me hardly” was one of a series of resolutions he made in 1699, at the age of thirty-two, to guide him in later life. Swift’s Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or the Country, written in 1729, and his best known work aside from Gulliver, could hardly have been written by a man with much love and affection for children. A Modest Proposal’s central suggestion, that a hundred thousand one-year-olds be butchered annually and sold as meat, was of course intensely ironic, but; there is something disturbingly chilling about his having thought of it at all.
Swift wanted Gulliver to reach a broad public and for the first two books hit upon the enchanting but easy device of scale; meticulous details of the consequences of disparities of size. Its a all good fun, at least before becoming aware of the irony of perspective and that these civilizations closely resemble that of eighteenth-century Europe, but Gulliver sees things he never noticed at home in England. In Lilliput, nearly everything seems petty; in Brobdingnag nearly everything seems gross.
For the Lilliputans the “extremities of the globe” is about twelve miles. That the Lilliputians are picayune in spirit as well as in body becomes absurdly clear as the story unfolds. The great issue between Lilliput’s two political parties is whether high-heeled shoes are better or worse than low; between Lilliput and Blefuscu, whether eggs should be broken at the larger end or the smaller. Part feeling is so intense that the High Heelers “will neither eat nor drink, nor talk” with the Low-Heelers, who, however, have the good fortune to be in favor at court. War rage but the Lilliputians despite heavy losses among sailors, console themselves that the body count is even heavier on the opposing side.
Swift’s contemporaries realized that the differences between the Whigs and Tories, or between England and France in the recently concluded War of the Spanish Succession were likewise of debatable importance. His didactic temper did find some outlet in a love interest, Hester Johnson, and within the stern limits he set for himself, he loved her. Not surprisingly, for her it it was far from enough. He joined the Anglican priesthood for several years, of which the church, for him, was merely a respectable living; though he leaned more towards skepticism than dogma he never doubted than an established church was necessary for the ordering of civilized society. The Church was, in effect, an arm of the government.
However, he does appear to have fallen in love with a deacon’s daughter in 1696, named Jane Waring, but she hesitated at his advances and he morosely returned home, perhaps permanently damaged in his capacity for a fully developed sexual relationship with any woman. However, a few years later when she let him know that she was ready, he slapped her down with a frigidity that led to doubts about the sincerity of his initial entreaties to her. Perhaps something was working in this overly-proud man , probably from the time of his fatherless boyhood, to make normal sexual expression nearlyssible. How could it be with this man who never forgot an insult both real or perceived?
…Much of Gulliver’s Travels is of course laughable satire, yet our laughter tends to have a hollow ring, for Swift’s hyperbole is usually squirmishly close to the truth. Much depends on time, place and circumstance. In the twenty-first century, Gulliver’s account of power politics is not so humorous : “if a prince sends forces into a nation, where the people are poor and ignorant, he may lawfully put half of them to death, and make slaves of the rest, in order to civilize and reduce them from their barbarous way of living.” And his definition of a soldier raises haunting memories: ” A Yahoo hired to kill in cold blood as many of his own species…. as possibly he can.” ….
…I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half-a-crown at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that value.
I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.
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; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom… Read More:http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html