YOU NEED TO READ SWIFT TO GET UP TO SPEED

I don’t recall how old I was — probably no later than my early teens — when I first read Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels; all I know is it made a lasting impression on my unworldly-wise perception of the world. If you haven’t read the book, this summary will at least give you the bare bones:

Several films have been made based on the novel; here is the trailer for the version I remember seeing (the book was what made me think; the movie served as entertaining afterthought):

JONATHAN SWIFT, born this day (Nov. 30) in 1667 in Dublin, led a multi-faceted life between Ireland and England (his place of residence often depended on events beyond his control). For the meaty details of  his life, you might consider taking time to go Googling; here, I offer a dozen of his quotes, the first two of which are from Gulliver’s Travels:

Based on Gulliver’s descriptions of their behavior, the King describes Europeans as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his God, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues to use the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man who hath thought of a good repartee when the company departed.

Happiness is the perpetual possession of being well deceived.

We of this age have discovered a shorter, and more prudent method to become scholars and wits, without the fatigue of reading or of thinking.

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

Nothing is so hard for those who  abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.

Almost 300 years have passed since Swift completed Gulliver’s Travels, and the world still doesn’t seem to have gotten the word. Too bad.

30 NOVEMBER — TO THE SWIFT

As 3o days hath the month of November,
Today marks the end of a month to remember.
Swift doth the day pass into December,
Ere the twain shall meet….in a glowing ember.

The above is my Lilliputian ode to two literary giants who were born on this day: Jonathan Swift  in 1667, Mark Twain in 1835. This post celebrates the former, the latter having been extolled in a post one year ago today (THE UNIVERSAL MARK TWAIN).

Jonathan Swift’s pièce de résistance, of course, was GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, a book I gobbled up when about 12 years old (in an abridged version for children), and still own. However, at that age I didn’t fully appreciate that it was much more than a grand adventure tale — it’s also a masterpiece of parody and social/political satire, as exemplified by the enmity between the empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu over which end of an egg should be broken first before being eaten — a conflict which put Gulliver in the middle between the Big Endians and the Small Endians. Well, I suppose that makes just as much sense as real people fighting over whose god is the Big Enchilada.

Let us turn now to three quotations from the unabridged GULLIVER’S TRAVELS:

Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license give to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert an idolatrous and barbarous people.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

I close with three more Swift quotes, the last of which I intend to inscribe on a club to beat anyone who would disparage my stunning cunning punning:

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise except he that is without it.

 

–30–

 

DON’T BLAME ME — I’M IRISH (PART FOUR)

I contemplated concluding this four-part series with thoughts and reminisences on my tour of the Emerald Isle some thirty years ago, but I have so many fond memories that I lack the time, and perhaps the words, to do them justice. Besides, recounting personal vacation trips is a dubious proposition of boring potential at best, so I’ll spare you (and me) the task, and go instead with a few swigs of St. Patrick’s Day trivia and a wee bit of Irish Lit, writ and wit.

Let’s start with St. Patrick himself. One might assume that St. Patricks Day is celebrated on March 17 because that’s his birthday, but in fact, his exact birth date is unknown. March 17 is the day he died (in the year 461).

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in NYC on March 17, 1762. For more on this and other things Irish, click on these short video clips:

http://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/history-of-st-patricks-day/videos/nyc

As for Irish Lit, one of the earliest surviving manuscripts is the painstakingly crafted and astonishingly beautiful Book of Kells (circa 800), which I had the pleasure of viewing at Dublin’s Trinity College Library. See for yourself at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells

Ireland, of course, has produced some of the greatest satirists and masterpieces of wit in history, including Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion, on which My Fair Lady is based), and John Millington Synge (The Playboy of the Western World). Excellent movies (and some not-so-excellent re-makes) have been made of all, and I close with a quote or a clip from each:

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his God, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.  –Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eymdx4xomM  –The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EADz07k_wXU  –Pygmalion (1938)

…if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse maybe to go mixing with the fools of earth.  –The Playboy of the Western World (1962)

May this St. Patrick’s Day find you neither lonesome nor with the fools of earth.