Tragic Rationalism in Gulliver's Travels

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<p>Gulliver's Tragic Rationalism Author(s): RICHARD J. DIRCKS Source: Criticism, Vol. 2, No. 2 (spring 1960), pp. 134-149 Published by: Wayne State University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/04/2013 17:09Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p> <p>.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p> <p>.</p> <p>Wayne State University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Criticism.</p> <p></p> <p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Apr 2013 17:09:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p> <p>RICHARD</p> <p>J. DIRCKS*</p> <p>Gulliver's</p> <p>Tragic Rationalism</p> <p>The problem of Jonathan Swift's misanthropy is still open to " examination. an example of John B. Moore recognized in Gulliver man getting knowledge or wisdom," and went on to suggest that this knowledge or wisdom was essentially misanthropic: "To infect others with his own ardent misanthropy, Swift could not have chosen a more effective human instrument than Lemuel Gulliver, it would seem." 1 The extent to which Swift himself should be associated with the mis anthropy of the hero of Gulliver's Travels is a problem that lies at the heart of any true understanding of the satirist's work. The possibility exists that a solution may be found by a fresh appraisal of Gulliver's The society tragic rationalism in "A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms." of horses found therein, so often considered as an example, at least in of Swift's still remains a cold and ideal, part, unfriendly habitation for mankind. There is little in it that appeals to the deeper and more Indeed, it is an emotionless life that is enduring human emotions. " recommended. The Houyhnhnms are, in some respects, perfect children of the enlightenment," 2 but they lack true humanity. The rationalismthey * are Richard concept of the</p> <p>is at the heart of the contentionof a " deistic view of</p> <p>Houyhnhnms</p> <p>as</p> <p>representative</p> <p>of</p> <p>of Irvin Ehrenpreishuman nature but</p> <p>eighteenth</p> <p>century it</p> <p>thatis</p> <p>suggestive</p> <p>assistant of English at St. John's J. Dircks, in professor University received his academic at Fordham York, and formerly at training taught Seton Hall University. " 1 The Role of Gulliver," John B. Moore, 470. The various MP, XXV (1927-8), critical attitudes toward Gulliver's fourth voyage are traced in Merrel D. Clubb's " ' The Criticism of Gulliver's to the Houyhnhnms,' Voyage 1726-1914," Stanford Studies in Language and Literature, ed. H. The place (1941), Craig pp. 203-232. of Swift's masterpiece in the tradition of literary Utopias is studied by Charlotte in Utopie und Satire in Swift's Gulliver's Travels Dege On (Frankfurt, 1934). Swift's misanthropy, see also the famous letter to 29, 1725) with Pope (September its statement of his love for the individual and his detestation of "that animal called man" (Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ed. George Sherburn, [Oxford, 1956], II, 325). 2 Ricardo The Mind and Art of Jonathan Quintana, York (New and Swift London, 1936), p. 323. New</p> <p>134</p> <p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Apr 2013 17:09:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p> <p>Gulliver's</p> <p>Tragic</p> <p>Rationalism</p> <p>135</p> <p>unlikely that the satire is directed against deism, for, as George Sher " burn perceptively observes, there is no clear glimmer of religion in Gulliver's fourth voyage that would indicate any attitude towardrevealed Christianity, examination of the to explore further whether fourth the book favorable of of or unfavorable." Travels not as an and Utopian 3 A an careful attempt society, Gulliver's horses,</p> <p>walk off a short space and begin to deliberate, pacing back and forth, as though examining some important " affair of weight." The portrait " seems to be a picture of two philosophers," pondering over a great world problem. It may be accepted as a burlesque of the meditating tendencies of some members of that group, a group which to Swift included all experimenters, especially those investigating the natural sciences. Swift, moreover, further links his horses to philosophers, at least in reference to their external appearance, when he describes their intense scrutiny of Gulliver's person: " They were under great Per about Shoes and plexity my Stockings, which they felt very often, to each other and neighing using various Gestures, not unlike those of a Philosopher, when he would attempt to solve some new and difficultPhenomenon." 3 880; 93. 4 Irvin 5</p> <p>but as an ironical portrait of the life of reason carried to excess, may offer an interesting approach to a better comprehension of Swift's ideas. Swift's comic 4 introduction of the Houyhnhnms to his reader finds Gulliver pinned against a tree in an effort to escape the filth of the Yahoo pack. He is rescued by what Gulliver believes to be an ordinary horse. Finally another appears. The two Houyhnhnms touch hoofs,</p> <p>society</p> <p>George The</p> <p>"The of Gulliver's Ehrenpreis, Origins "Errors the Sherburn, concerning</p> <p>Travels"</p> <p>PMLA,</p> <p>LXXII MP, LVI</p> <p>(1957), (1958),</p> <p>Houyhnhnms,"</p> <p>was a comic writer. was his language, was" passions, Comedy just as English See also John F. Ross, "The Final Comedy of Lemuel Studies (p. x). Gulliver," in the Comic and Edward 1941), "Swift and the 175-196; (Berkeley, Stone, " Horses: or Comedy? X (1949), 367-376. MLQ, Misanthropy ed. Herbert Davis Swift, Gulliver's "Jonathan Travels, (Oxford, 1941), p. 210. The comparison of the Houyhnhnms to philosophers at this point to be appears casual. the satirist's attitude toward certain However, of phi merely types and his descriptions of the meditating elsewhere, tendencies of the losophers</p> <p>of Gulliver's Travels has frequently been suggested. Carl Van comedy Gulliver's The ("Introduction," Modem New Travels, York, Library, 1931) saw Swift as a misanthrope, and viewed his work as a savage, unrelenting, and extravagant attack upon mankind. More he presented however, significantly, Swift as a great writer of He noted that the satirist's hate and scorn of comedy. mankind to make men laugh, that Swift, " however hot and furious his emerged Doren</p> <p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Apr 2013 17:09:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p> <p>136</p> <p>Richard</p> <p>J.</p> <p>Dircks</p> <p>his difficulties in discharging the necessities of nature, he " I hope, the gentle Reader will excuse me apologizes to the reader: for dwelling on these and the like Particulars; which however insignifi cant they may appear to grovelling vulgar Minds, yet will certainly to enlarge his Thoughts and Imagination, and help a Philosopher " them to the Benefits of as well as apply publick private Life (p. 78). Indeed, Swift does not always see much difference between a phi losopher and a fool: "For, to speak a bold Truth, it is a fatal Mis carriage, so ill to order Affairs, as to pass for a Fool in one Company, when in another you might be treated as a Philosopher6 " " In the in the Tale of a Tub, Digression concerning Madness Swift analyzes the make-up of the introducers of new schemes in philosophy. Among them he lists a number of the great scientists and " Let us next philosophers of the past. He is unsparing in his satire: examine the great introducers of new Schemes in and Philosophy, search till we find from what of the Soul the arises Faculty Disposition in mortal Man, of taking into his Head to advance new Systems. . . .Because and by it is plain, were their that several of the chief modern, all, except mistaken usually own Followers, by to them, among their Adversaries, been 7 Persons both and crazed, of ancient indeed or out</p> <p>The comedy of this passage is uncomplimentary to the Houyhnhnms. " " The extravagant phrase is ironical, and there is great perplexity " " obvious humor in the portrait of these horses neighing to each other in intelligent fashion. The entire third book of Gulliver's Travels is " an attack on a certain breed of philosopher," but a more striking echo hits the mind as it recalls Gulliver's experience among the Brob dingnagians. After a somewhat indecorous passage, in which Gulliver describes</p> <p>have</p> <p>of their Wits. ...Paracelsus,</p> <p>Of this Kind were Epicurus,Descartes, and others."</p> <p>Diogenes,In the</p> <p>Appolonius,light these</p> <p>Lucretius,</p> <p>Gulliver's comparison of the to philosophers Houyhnhnms supports the hypothesis that Swift intended them to be looked upon ironically.8 passages,a more deliberate intention. Future reference in my text to suggest Gulliver's will be by page number to this edition. Travels 8 Tale of a Tub," in Prose Jonathan Swift, "A Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford, 1939), I, 106. 7 Ibid. 8 The have at times been as other than ideal. Houyhnhnms For recognized in the Comic, Ross, in Studies out that modern example p. 176, points critics have new objections to the fourth voyage; they feel that it "is psychologically Even if we the Yahoos, we cannot unconvincing. the accept accept Houy horses,</p> <p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Apr 2013 17:09:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p> <p>Gulliver's</p> <p>Tragic</p> <p>Rationalism</p> <p>137</p> <p>A careful evaluation of the social habits of the Houyhnhnms suggests a similarity between their way of life and that to which the social theories of the Whig government might lead if carried to excess. Within the framework of this interpretation, the limitations that may be discovered in the society of the Houyhnhnms become a part of</p> <p>Swift's carefully ordered designa part of a complex attack on the philosophic position of his political opponents. When Gulliver's Travels was published in 1726, some twelve years had passed since the Whigs had risen to the controlling position in</p> <p>parliament, and George I had begun the long reign of the House of Hanover on the English throne. It was the beginning of an era of A system of government, new in growing prestige for parliament. was under the direction of men brought up many respects, developing and nurtured on the philosophical tenets of John Locke, and particu larly on his ideas concerning government. Basil Williams suggests that "the Whigs found in Locke's two great works on civil government and toleration an effective antidote to the Tory thesis, and all their statesmen from Stanhope to Chatham his creed as their adopted 9 political Bible." Swift, although he originally had Whig leanings, turned in the direction of Tory sentiments around 1710. His pamphlets against Whig policies in Ireland, the Drapier Letters, and his association with the Scriblerus group of Tory wits form ample evidence of his political This period of enlightenment in philosophy. philosophy, government, and science was a fitting time for Swift's satire on man. He ably deals with the excesses of the scientific method in the third book. The individual barbarity and depravity of mankind finds its representation in the Yahoo. the court, and the variety of parasites who sur Royalty, round it form a wide basis for Swift's art throughout. But those aspects of the early which are century representative of the philosophical speculations of John Locke, and the growing importance of parlia ment, find little obvious condemnation in the satire of Gulliver's Travels. It is with this in mind that an examination of the Houyhnhnm society, in relation to the social and political philosophy of Locke, T. O. Wedelpertinent.</p> <p>seems</p> <p>has observed that " men in Locke'sthe drab and limited should life have 1939, of</p> <p>state of nature, likethe horses with is wholly</p> <p>and furthermore, hnhnms; as a Utopia, unsatisfactory 8 The Whig Supremacy 1949), p. 4.</p> <p>as Swift 1714-1760</p> <p>himself</p> <p>shown." reprinted</p> <p>(Oxford,</p> <p>corrections</p> <p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Apr 2013 17:09:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p> <p>138</p> <p>Richard</p> <p>J.</p> <p>Dircks</p> <p>" the Houyhnhnms, are rational creatures," living in a state of liberty without license, everyone administering the laws of nature for himself,laws of</p> <p>There is also the need for the proper care of offspring, and this is the source of the necessity for keeping the family together. Unlike otheranimals, the woman,</p> <p>in his Two Locke, points of similarity may also be observed. Treatises of Government (1690), examines the family as a social unit. He recognizes, of course, that the reason for the union of male and female is procreation. But he observes that it is not merely for this.</p> <p>temperance</p> <p>and</p> <p>mutual</p> <p>benevolence."10</p> <p>Other</p> <p>significant</p> <p>provide for the nourishment of her children:</p> <p>constantly</p> <p>capable</p> <p>of</p> <p>conceiving,</p> <p>is unable</p> <p>to alone</p> <p>selves</p> <p>And herein, I think, lies the chief, if not the only reason, why the male and female in mankind are tied to a longer con junction than other creaturesviz., because the female is capable of conceiving, and, de facto is commonly with child again, and brings forth too a new birth, long before the former is out of a dependency for support on his parents' help and able to shift for himself, and has all the assistance due to him from his parents, whereby the father, who is bound to take care for those he hath begot, is under an obligation to con tinue in conjugal society with the same woman longer than other creatures, whose young, being able to subsist of thembefore the time of</p> <p>jugal</p> <p>bond</p> <p>dissolvesusual new</p> <p>of itself, and</p> <p>procreation</p> <p>returns</p> <p>Hymen, to choose</p> <p>at his</p> <p>they are at libertysummons them</p> <p>again,</p> <p>the</p> <p>con</p> <p>till</p> <p>anniversary mates.11</p> <p>season,</p> <p>again</p> <p>is there</p> <p>Certain observations on these ideas presented by Locke seem appro His to the is priate. approach problem thoroughly rational. Nowherea concern for love, affection, or like social emotions as reasons</p> <p>for the prolonged family unity. What is best for the continuation the species is the paramount criterion. The conjugal relationship10T. XXIII Utopia God" Ernest influence MacLean's O. Wedel, "On 443. not For (New literature Locke and He (1926), of Locke, (p. 449). Bernbaum on the John the Philosophical of Gulliver's Background further comments that "even Swift's a philosopher's kingdom, somewhat different view York, 1920), pp. x-xii. A of the nor see St. Travels," Utopia is</p> <p>of ofSP, the</p> <p>Plato's</p> <p>Augustine's City of Gulliver's ed. Travels,</p> <p>of Locke's general study eighteenth century may be found in Kenneth Literature in the Eighteenth English (New Century Two Treatises (New York and London,</p> <p>1936). Haven, 11 John...</p>