BIOGRAPHICAL AND LITERARY NOTES
He desired I would stand like a Colossus, with my legs as far asunder as I conveniently could. He then commanded his general (who was an old experienced leader, and a great patron of mine) to draw up the troops in close order, and march them under me; the foot by twenty-four abreast, and the horse by sixteen, with drums beating, colours flying, and pikes advanced.
by Jonathan Swift
Illustrated By J. J. Grandville
SIR WALTER SCOTT
The life of Swift is a subject
full of interest and instruction for all who are
disposed to meditate on the vicissitudes which form the
destiny of men distinguished by their talents and their
Jonathan Swift was born (November 30, 1667) in Dublin
in a little house in Hoey's Court, which the inhabitants of
that quarter point out to this day.
When Swift entered Trinity College in Dublin in 1682 he
was required to pursue the regular courses of study of that
era, which included several that were very ill suited to his
nature. Logic, then reputed to be the science par excellence,
was recommended to him in vain: he had an innate repugnance
for the sophisms of Smiglecius, Keckermannus,
Burgersdicius, and other weighty savants whom we scarcely
In 1688, when Swift was 21, war broke out in Ireland.
Without money or friends, he left college and Duhlin and
went to England where he joined his mother. On her advice
he sought and received the patronage of Sir William Temple,
an accomplished diplomat and man of letters, to whom the
Swift family had ties of kinship and service. Swift eventually
became Temple's highly valued private secretary. Temple
showed his great trust in Swift by permitting him to be present
during confidential meetings with King William III,
with whom Temple was on close terms. When Temple was
confined to his bed by gout, it was Swift who was charged
with accompanying the King, and all the biographers of the
writer have repeated that King William offered him a
company of horse, and taught him to cut asparagus in the Dutch
manner. It would not be proper to pass over in silence the
advantages he gained, from the King's example, of eating
this vegetable a La Hollandaise, that is to say, from eating the
asparagus whole, tip, stalk, and all.
Swift returned temporarily to Ireland in 1694 where he
was ordained in the Anglican Church. While there he also
formed an attachment with the sister of a college friend, Jane
Waring, whom he called, in a rather cool poetic conceit,
Varina. She rejected his proposal of marriage, and when she
changed her mind four years later, he answered in a harsh
tone which it would be unjust to judge severely.
Following the death of Sir William Temple in 1699 and,
disappointed in his ambitions for preferment in England,
Swilt had to return to Ireland again. Soon after, he brought
to Ireland as companion the daughter of Temple's steward,
the cherished friend he called Stella. Evidently they were
secretly married at her insistence in 1716, upon his condition
that the marriage remain secret. Stella continued with the
same circumspection as before, to prevent any suspicion of
intimacy, remaining his close and cherished friend. With her
companion Miss Dingley she kept his house, did the honors
at his table while appearing to be only a guest, was his faithful
companion, but his wife in name only, and even this mar-
riage was a secret from the world.
Swift was named Dean of St. Patrick's in Dublin in 1713.
After years of disappointed expectations in England, Swift
considered this position at best, as he often said, an honor-
The plan of the satire in Gulliver's Travels varies in its
different parts. The Voyage to Lilliput is an allusion to the court
and politics of England: Sir Robert Walpole is portrayed in
the personage of the first minister Flimnap; and he never
forgave Swift for it, constantly opposing any scheme that
would have brought the Dean to England.
In the Voyage to Brobdingnag the satire is of a more
general application. The contrast between Gulliver's arrival
in Lilliput, where he was a giant, and among a race next to
whom he is no more than a pygmy is striking.
The Voyage to Laputa certainly contains references to the
most esteemed thinkers of the time. It is even claimed that
there is an arrow aimed at Sir Isaac Newton, that the
incident of the tailor who after calculating Gulliver's height with
a quadrant and taking his measurements with mathematical
instruments, brings him badly made clothes which don't fit,
refers to the error of a printer who added a figure to Newton's
calculation of the distance between the sun and the earth and
thereby augmented it to an incalculable degree. Swift's
friends also believed that the idea of the Flapper was
suggested by Newton's habitual absentmindedness.
The Voyage to the Houyhnhnms is a severe diatribe
against human nature; it could have been inspired only by
the indignation which as Swift acknowledged in his epitaph,
had for so long lacerated his breast. Despite the hatred which
inspired it, the character of the Yahoos offers a moral lesson.
It is not man as he is enlightened by religion nor even as he is
naturally, that Swift wished to portray; it is man degraded by
the willing enslavement of his intellect and his instincts, for
the man who abandons himself to brustish sensuality, to
cruelty, to greed, comes near to being a Yahoo.
The observations of Gulliver are ne.ier more acute or more
profound than those of a captain of a merchant ship, or of a
London surgeon, who has made an ocean voyage.
Robinson Crusoe, recounting events much closer to reality,
is perhaps not superior to Gulliver in the gravity and
verisimilitude of his narrative. In the writing of fiction, Swift
possessed to a supreme degree the art of giving reality to
characters and situations by the use of minute details, which is
also the secret of the art of Daniel Defoe.
The fame of Gulliver's Travels quickly spread to Europe.
Voltaire, who was in England at the time, praised the book to
his friends in France and urged them to translate it. The
Abbe Desfontaines undertook the translation. His misgivings,
fears, and apologies are consigned to a strange
introduction which gives a very clear idea of the mind and
opinions of a French man of letters at the time. Despite his
pretense of good taste and delicacy, his translation is pass-
Swift was rather short of stature, robust, and well
proportioned. He had blue eyes, a dark complexion, thick dark
brows, a slightly aquiline nose, and features which expressed
all the severity, pride, and boldness of his character. In his
youth he was considered a very handsome man, and in age
his face, though stern, was noble and impressive.
Swift was received everywhere with the marks of the deepest
respect. He used to say that there ought to be a subscription
to keep him in hats, since his were so quickly worn out in
returning all the greetings made to him.
[Note by the Editors of the French Edition]
Swift expended, in the service of the circumstances into
which he was thrown, a talent worthy of better usage and
more durable success; and among the numerous and remarkable
productions of the Rabelais of England, as
Voltaire dubbed him, his Gulliver is the only book destined to
live in posterity. Indeed one work of such greatness is enough
to establish a reputation of the first rank.
The text for "Gulliver's Travels", by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was first published in London in 1726, this book is based on The Authoritative text, of the 1735 edition published by George Faulkner in Dublin.
The illustrations are by J.J Grandville(1767-1854) which where first published in 1838 by Henri Fournier in Paris.
The Color Frontpiece is by C.E Brock