1″Gulliver vexeth me more than any.”1 When Jonathan Swift wrote this sentence, he was referring not to his narrator, but to the problems that beset his efforts to publish a new edition of Gulliver’s Travels.
The sentence occurs in a letter dated seven years after Swift’s work first appeared, and at the time he felt frustrated in his attempts to gather the necessary materials for his bookseller. (In the 18th century, a “bookseller” usually refers to one who both publishes and sells books.) Upset with the unauthorized changes to the early editions, Swift wanted to correct and perhaps revise his work, but to do so he needed to track down various manuscripts and printed copies. Swift’s predicament in locating and sorting these materials parallels that of modern-day scholars trying to edit Gulliver’s Travels.
Scholars, of course, cannot ask Swift about his work – unless they could travel to Glubbdubdrib and summon Swift’s ghost – and thus have to sort through and interpret the various surviving sources. Not surprisingly, then, Gulliver continues to vex.13 Corr.
, vol. 4, p. 198. I wish you would please to let me know, whether You have such an interleaved Gulliver; and where and how I could get it; For to say the truth, I cannot with patience endure that mingld and mangled manner, as it came from Mottes hands.13Many scholars of the era argue that a single name overshadows all others in 18th-century prose satire: Jonathan Swift. Swift wrote poetry as well as prose, and his satires range over all topics. Critically, Swift’s satire marked the development of prose parody away from simple satire or burlesque.
A burlesque or lampoon in prose would imitate a despised author and quickly move to reductio ad absurdum by having the victim say things coarse or idiotic. On the other hand, other satires would argue against a habit, practice, or policy by making fun of its reach or composition or methods. What Swift did was to combine parody, with its imitation of form and style of another, and satire in prose. Swift’s works would pretend to speak in the voice of an opponent and imitate the style of the opponent and have the parodic work itself be the satire.
Swift’s first major satire was A Tale of a Tub (1703–1705), which introduced an ancients/moderns division that would serve as a distinction between the old and new conception of value. The “moderns” sought trade, empirical science, the individual’s reason above the society’s, while the “ancients” believed in inherent and immanent value of birth, and the society over the individual’s determinations of the good. In Swift’s satire, the moderns come out looking insane and proud of their insanity, and dismissive of the value of history. In Swift’s most significant satire, Gulliver’s Travels , autobiography, allegory, and philosophy mix together in the travels. Thematically, Gulliver’s Travels is a critique of human vanity, of pride.
Book one, the journey to Liliput, begins with the world as it is. Book two shows that the idealized nation of Brobdingnag with a philosopher king is no home for a contemporary Englishman. Book four depicts the land of the Houyhnhnms, a society of horses ruled by pure reason, where humanity itself is portrayed as a group of “yahoos” covered in filth and dominated by base desires. It shows that, indeed, the very desire for reason may be undesirable, and humans must struggle to be neither Yahoos nor Houyhnhnms, for book three shows what happens when reason is unleashed without any consideration of morality or utility (i.e. madness, ruin, and starvation).Smith’s greatest work was An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776.
What it held in common with de Mandeville, Hume, and Locke was that it began by analytically examining the history of material exchange, without reflection on morality. Instead of deducing from the ideal or moral to the real, it examined the real and tried to formulate inductive rules.5Late at night on 8 August 1726, someone from a hackney-coach dropped a mysterious packet at the home of the London bookseller Benjamin Motte. The packet contained a manuscript and a curious letter from a stranger named Richard Sympson.
Sympson stated that his cousin, Lemuel Gulliver, had written an account of travels that Sympson had edited and was offering to Motte for publication. Though admitting that the enclosed manuscript “may be thought in one or two places to be a little Satyrical”, Sympson hoped Motte would agree to publish it.3 The letter specified strict conditions about how to proceed. Motte was not to let the manuscript out of his sight and he had only three days to respond to the offer. If Motte wished to publish it, he would pay two hundred pounds up front, after which he would receive the subsequent parts of Gulliver’s narrative. Otherwise, Motte must return the manuscript; no counter-proposals would be considered.The positive side of the explosion in information was that the 18th century was markedly more generally educated than the centuries before. Education was less confined to the upper classes than it had been in prior centuries so contributions to science, philosophy, economics, and literature came from all parts of the kingdom.
It was the first time that literacy and a library were all that stood between a person and education. It was an age of “enlightenment” in the sense that the insistence and drive for reasonable explanations of nature and mankind was a rage. It was an “age of reason” in that it was an age that accepted clear, rational methods as superior to tradition. However, there was a dark side to such literacy as well, which authors of the 18th century felt at every turn, which was that nonsense and insanity were also getting more adherents than ever before. Charlatans and mountebanks were fooling more, just as sages were educating more, and alluring and lurid apocalypses vied with sober philosophy on the shelves.
As with the Worldwide Web in the 21st century, the democratisation of publishing meant that older systems for determining value and uniformity of view were both in shambles. Thus, it was increasingly difficult to trust books in the 18th century, as books were increasingly easy to make and buy.