Category Archives: literature

a disservice to Walt Whitman

 

 

Walt Whitman – NY Times 9-14-2020

 

Whitman to John Addington Symonds

 

 

 

re:

“Walt Whitman, Poet of a Contradictory America: During the Civil War era, the writer emerged as an emblem of the country’s dissonance. Now, in the midst of another all-consuming national crisis, his work feels uncannily relevant.”

By Jesse Green

The New York Times

September. 14, 2020

 

 

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This article includes “pictures, the essay’s writer and T’s editors chose some of their favorite passages of Walt Whitman’s poetry — excerpted below as he published them in the 1891-92 edition of “Leaves of Grass” — which the photographer, stylist and models referenced to inspire the images, taken on July 24, 2020, at St. Josaphat’s Monastery in Glen Cove, N.Y.”

Take a look for yourself to see how tawdry and pitiful this is.

 

 

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The following are excerpts from the article, by Jesse Green, the Times’s co-chief theater critic. With thoughts/comments by me in ALL CAPS.

 

The 13-part newspaper series on manly health he wrote a few years earlier, in 1858, under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, is full of epigrammatic dictums — “the beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat” and “we have spoken against the use of the potato” — but for long passages comes off as unintentional gay porn.

Of course, so do long passages of his signed work.

GAY PORN? COME ON! I HAVE READ THE ENTIRE 1858 NEWSPAPER SERIES BY WHITMAN REFERRED TO. (IT WAS RECENTLY PUBLISHED IN BOOK FORM AS Manly Health and Training.) GREEN DELIBERATELY MISCHARACTERIZES THIS WORK OR ITS INTENTION.

 

 

Six years before the war, in June 1855, Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” a book of poems he would prune and shape, like a massive topiary, until his death in 1892 at the age of 72. That he believed it to be not just his masterpiece but America’s, and that America somehow came to agree, seems so wildly unlikely when you actually read it that the reading throws you into a time warp. Are we in classical Greece, as the antique cadences and references sometimes suggest? Adamic Eden? The Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury? Pre-Columbian America? Or tonight on Grindr? (Polar Bear, highly verbal, Masc4Masc.) Not many other masterpieces of the 19th century fill their pages with kisses among “camerados,” testicular gropes (“the sensitive, orbic, underlapp’d brothers”), hydrothermal ejaculations (“the pent-up rivers of myself”) and the scent of armpits “finer than prayer.” Even in the unlikely event that Whitman merely imagined such things, they have the authenticity of aspiration. You can see it in the portrait he chose for the frontispiece of the first edition: an engraving of the author with his hips, hat and eyebrows all cocked, with his lanky frame in a louche slouch that any gay man in Brooklyn Heights today (I live a quarter-mile from the printing house where it was typeset) would take as a welcome, a come-on, a song of himself.

TOTALLY UNJUSTIFIED INSINUATIONS/INFERENCES, “CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS” ABOUT LEAVES OF GRASS. THE REFERENCE TO ‘ANTIQUE CADENCES” SHOWS IGNORANCE. WHITMAN WANTED, CHOSE DELIBERATELY, TO AVOID ALL ECHOES OF CLASSICAL LITERATURE.

 

It is only as an icon of queerness that Whitman’s legacy is sometimes denied, as if gay people, rooting through the crypts of time, had dug up the wrong body. For decades, heterosexual critics commonly treated the homoerotic passages as metaphor or, like Harold Bloom, asserted that all those loving comrades were actually just platonic friends. (Bloom called Whitman’s sexuality “onanistic.”) And though it’s true (as Justin Kaplan tells us in “Walt Whitman: A Life,” his 1980 biography) that in old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea to acknowledge the actual sex shadowing the metaphysical sex in his work — “morbid inferences,” he answered in an 1890 letter, “disavow’d” and “damnable” — that hasn’t stopped gay men since liberation from celebrating the truth for what it is and making Walt their poster boy. After all, how metaphysical can an erection be? (In the preface to the 1856 edition of “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman pledges to restore the “desires, lusty animations, organs, acts” that had been “driven to skulk out of literature with whatever belongs to them.”) Whether or not he sired six children, as he sometimes claimed, though none are known to have come knocking in search of a handout or benediction, they would not be dispositive anyway: Most homophile men have until recently also had wives and children — and Whitman called at least one of his likely young lovers “dear son.”

RE WHITMAN AS AN ICON OF QUEERNESS, SEE MY COMMENTS BELOW.

RE “In old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea,” [ITALICS ADDED], THE LETTER OF WHITMAN TO AN ENGLISH ACOLYTE (JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS) IS PRESERVED IN DRAFT FORM — I.E., A DRAFT BY WHITMAN. SYMONDS’S LETTER (I.E., FROM WHITMAN TO HIM) HAS NOT BEEN PRESERVED APPARENTLY. (IT HAS NOT BEEN PUBLISHED.) I HAVE POSTED HERE (ABOVE) AS A WORD DOCUMENT MY TRANSCRIPTION OF WHITMAN’S DRAFT. TO CALL THE LETTER OR ITS TONE CRUEL AND TO SAY THAT IT AMOUNTED TO CASUAL DISMISSAL IS OVERREACH — TO SAY NOTHING OF BEING INACCURATE.

GREEN DID NOT STUDY WHITMAN’S DRAFT LETTER CLOSELY. HE LEARNED ABOUT IT FROM JUSTIN KAPLAN’S BIOGRAPHY OF WHITMAN. KAPLAN STATES THAT WHITMAN’S LETTER (DRAFT OF SAME) TO SYMONDS WAS “CALCULATINGLY CASUAL,” WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS CASUAL. IN FACT, WHILE WHITMAN DID TRY TO KEEP THE TONE MEASURED, IT IS OBVIOUS HOW CAREFULLY HE DRAFTED THE REPLY. WHITMAN, IN WRITING TO SYMONDS, CLEARLY WAS ON THE SPOT, FELT DEFENSIVE. HE WRITES WITH RESERVE AND ISSUES A FIRM DENIAL. NOTHING LESS AND NOTHING MORE.

 

What he isn’t, at least at the time he went on his milk diet, nor during the years when he produced the first editions of “Leaves of Grass,” is amatively mature. “The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,” he admits in the same poem. “Many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word.” Despite their enthusiastic (and unquestionably transporting) wide-world embraces, these early writings often suggest high school aesthetes pining in diaries for high school athletes. They want more from others than they dare say directly.

THIS IS PSYCHOBABBLE TRIVIALIZING THE WORK OF A GREAT POET (AMERICA’S GREATEST), AS IF HE WERE THE WRITER OF LYRICS TO POP SONGS OR PERHAPS GRAPHIC NOVELS.

 

… his need for the “comradeship and sometimes affection” of stevedores, farmhands and omnibus drivers begins to make sense when you recognize that unresolved split in him. Here was a nascent voice of the common man but also a mama’s boy, theater buff and opera freak who shared elderberry wine with Oscar Wilde. Wobbling like an adolescent between wanting to possess the other and be him, Whitman — and, because he represented America, America — did not yet know what destiny held or how to find it. In that way, his diet was spiritual: a means of annealing his body for the great work ahead.

MORE JEJUNE PSYCHOBABBLE.

 

 

Whitman embodied cognitive dissonance. His freethinking coexisted with a lifelong project of self-editing, literal and otherwise, in service not just to his art but his ambition. “Leaves of Grass” was no less ruthlessly pruned and reshaped over the decades than his own public persona; he could not have become The Good Gray Poet without sanding down his pervy edges in deference to prejudices he may or may not have outgrown himself. It remains impossible to say whether his denial of gay affairs, like his denial of full personhood for Black and Indigenous people, was unexamined prejudice or savvy self-promotion.

“COGNITIVE DISSONANCE” … “PERVY EDGES”: MORE PSYCHOBABBLE AND DEMEANING WITH CANT.

 

 

How different he sounds from his contemporaries, even American ones, except for Emily Dickinson, whose similarly pioneering and proto-queer work would not become widely known until after her death in 1886.

NOTE THE SNARKY, CONFIDENT ASSERTION THAT EMILY DICKENSON’S POETRY WAS “PROTO-QUEER.” THIS IS MORE CUTE GLIBNESS. SERIOUS LITERARY SCHOLARS HAVE RECENTLY WRITTEN ESSAYS INVESTIGATING WHETHER EMILY DICKINSON HAD LONGINGS FOR WOMEN AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEM. IT MAY BE TRUE. IS IT PROVEN?

 

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My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr. – a highly literate and well-read person and a scholar in his own right, how many MDs and psychiatrists or therapists can this be said of? – made two significant observations to me about Whitman. First, that gays were very eager to claim him as one of them, and that this reflected something gays tend to do. Second, that he (Dr. Colp) felt that Whitman handled questions about his sexual orientation very well – meaning discretion, not disclosing more than he wished to – as Whitman’s way of dealing with such inquiries.

A comment (responding to the Times article) that was posted on the Times site yesterday reads as follows:

Samuel, Denver

Sept. 15

It’s not that anything this article says is wrong. It’s just that because of the lens the writer writes through (proud gay) and the contextual pictures (over-expensive clothing), there is nothing quite right here either. Whitman celebrated sexuality — all sexual desires and behaviors — and he celebrated freedom, including the freedom to NOT be defined by any particular bent of those sexual desires. This is the exact opposite of modern gay movements, which insist on the definition of the self by one’s sexual preference. This is why Whitman denounced “an anguished acolyte’s [John Addington Symonds, not named by Green] plea” – because the acolyte got it wrong and wanted to pigeon-hole a man whose manifesto was freedom.

Whitman’s poetry isn’t gay. It’s pan-sexual, free to ever cross borders and return back — completely free of being defined by the preference of the moment. This sort of freedom is almost entirely unknown today in a world where people want to loudly define themselves by all sorts of preferences, and do not seek or admire the freedom that comes with refusing to be defined by one definition and embracing a multitude of possibilities. That is what Whitman continually did: he included everything in his self-definition; he “contained multitudes.”

As for the pictures with the article . . . really? How tone-deaf can you be?

I completely agree with Samuel. I don’t care whatsoever whether Whitman was gay or not. I think he probably was gay. But there is no conclusive proof. And, anyway, as I just said, I don’t care.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 16, 2020

“See, in my poems” (Walt Whitman)

 

 

 

excerpt 2 from ‘Starting from Paumanok’

 

 

 

See! steamers steaming through my poems!
See, in my poems immigrants continually coming and landing;
See, in arriere, the wigwam, the trail, the hunter’s hut, the flat-
boat, the maize-leaf, the claim, the rude fence, and the
backwoods village;
See, on the one side the Western Sea, and on the other the Eastern Sea, how they advance and
retreat upon my poems,
as upon their own shores;
See, pastures and forests in my poems—see, animals, wild and
tame—See, beyond the Kanzas, countless herds of buffalo,
feeding on short curly grass;
See, in my poems, cities, solid, vast, inland, with paved streets,
with iron and stone edifices, ceaseless vehicles, and
commerce;
See, the many-cylinder’d steam printing-press—see, the electric
telegraph, stretching across the continent, from the Western Sea
to Manhattan;
See, through Atlantica’s depths, pulses American, Europe
reaching—pulses of Europe, duly return’d,
See, the strong and quick locomotive, as it departs, panting,
blowing the steam-whistle;
See, ploughmen, ploughing farms—See, miners, digging mines—
see, the numberless factories;
See, mechanics, busy at their benches, with tools—see from
among them, superior judges, philosophs, Presidents, emerge,
drest in working dresses;
See, lounging through the shops and fields of The States, me,
well-belov’d, close-held by day and night;
Hear the loud echoes of my songs there! Read the hints come at
last.

 

Walt Whitman,. “Starting from Paumanok.” (excerpt)

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2020 

 

Walt Whitman creates a catalogue

 

 

 

Walt Whitman: Daybooks and Notebooks, edited by William White, Volume III, pg. 733 (New York University Press, 1978)

 

Interlink’ d, food-yielding lands!
Land of coal and iron! land of gold! land of cotton, sugar, rice! Land of wheat, beef, pork! land of wool and hemp! land of the
apple and the grape!
Land of the pastoral plains, the grass-fields of the world! land of
those sweet-air’d interminable plateaus!
Land of the herd, the garden, the healthy house of adobie! Lands where the north-west Columbia winds, and where the
south-west Colorado winds!
Land of the eastern Chesapeake! land of the Delaware!
Land of Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan!
Land of the Old Thirteen! Massachusetts land! land of Vermont
and Connecticut!
Land of the ocean shores! land of sierras and peaks!

— from Walt Whitman, “Starting from Paumanok”

 

 

excerpt from ‘Starting from Paumanok’

 

 

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Walt Whitman’s catalogues. Long lists. A stylistic feature of his poetry.

 

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2020

 

Balzac, Père Goriot post updated

 

 

I have updated my recent post about Balzac’s Père Goriot

 

at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2020/07/28/balzac-le-pere-goriot/

 

with the text in English of the opening pages and some additional commentary.

 

 

— Roger W.  Smith

   August 2020

Walt Whitman (again)

 

 

from ‘There was a child went forth’

 

 

The streets themselves and the facades of houses, and goods in
the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank’d wharves, the huge crossing
at the ferries,
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river
between,
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables
of white or brown two miles off,
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little
boat slack-tow’ d astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away
solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea- crow, the fragrance of salt
marsh and shore mud,
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and
who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

 

— from Walt Whitman, “There Was a Child Went Forth” (1855)

 

 

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As noted by James Perrin Warren in his monograph Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment, “This passage catalogues the scenes of New York and Brooklyn, scenes that will become central to later poems like ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry;’ ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking;’ and ‘As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.’ ”

 

The beautiful passage evokes images and thoughts of New York City which I can relate to.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

the poet (Walt Whitman)

 

 

Walt Whtiman, from ‘Song of the Broad Axe’

 

 

His shape arises!
Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish,
Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, country-man,
Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, summer swimmer in
rivers or by the sea,
Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect,
free from taint from top to toe, free forever from headache
and dyspepsia, clean-breathed,
Ample-limbed, a good feeder, weight a hundred and eighty
pounds, full-blooded, six feet high, forty Inches round the
breast and back,
Countenance sun-burnt, bearded, calm, unrefined,
Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gentleman on equal
terms,
Attitudes lithe and erect, costume free, neck open, of slow
movement on foot,
Passer of his right arm round the shoulders of his friends,
companion of the street,
Persuader always of people to give him their sweetest touches,
and never their meanest,
A Manhattanese bred, fond of Brooklyn, fond of Broadway, fond
of the life of the wharves and the great ferries,
Enterer everywhere, welcomed everywhere, easily understood
after all,
Never offering others, always offering himself, corroborating his
phrenology,
Voluptuous, inhabitive, combative, conscientious, alimentive,
intuitive, of copious friendship, sublimity, firmness, self-
esteem, comparison, individuality, form, locality, eventuality,
Avowing by life, manners, works, to contribute illustrations of
results of The States,
Teacher of the unquenchable creed, namely, egotism,
Inviter of others continually henceforth to try their strength
against his.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (1856 version)

 

 

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For a discussion of this passage — and of Whitman’s brilliant use of –er nouns, formed from adding suffixes to verbs — see James Perrin Warren, Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), pp. 56-57,

Note Whitman’s genius in creating his own “grammar” in which the repetition of these nouns functions to create what the Whitman scholar Gay Wilson Allen* (drawing upon the work of the Italian scholar Pasquale Jannaccone, in his La Poesìa di Walt Whitman e L’Evoluzione delle Forme Ritmìche) calls “grammatical and logical rime.”

 

*Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Handbook (Packard and Company, 1946), pg. 408

 

 

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My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp. Jr. said, exclaimed, to me once, that Walt Whitman was a wonderful, a marvelous, PERSON. How true. How much I would like to be able to say I partook of some of these personal qualities.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

Balzac, “Le Père Goriot”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete audio book (in French) posted here.

 

 

Le Pere Goriot – Chapter 1 (excepts)

 

 

Also, the opening pages of Chapter 1 (as a downloadable Word document, above).

 

 

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Diana Brown (a voracious and perspicacious reader), host of the site

Thoughts on Papyrus: Exploration of Literature, Cultures and Knowledge

has a new post

“Review: Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac”

at

 

https://ideasonpapyrus.wordpress.com/2020/07/26/review-le-pere-goriot-by-honore-de-balzac/

 

 

Her post got me to thinking about Le Père Goriot, one of my all-time favorite books. I read it first in French, in Mr. Walter Albert French 3 class in my freshman year at Brandeis University. Mr. Albert was an outstanding teacher.

I decided to post the complete audiobook, read in the original French.

I will leave the commentary on Le Père Goriot to Ms. Brown. But I recall that my college best friend John Ferris also read the novel in French class, and that it was one of his favorites. John was a sociology major and a polymath. (He encouraged me to go with him to audit a lecture on James Joyce’s story “Araby” by the revered professor and poet Allen Grossman which I never forgot). John made the point to me that Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house in the novel (Le Père Goriot) is a microcosm of society, with the different floors representing different levels of social standing. The unappreciated and neglected (by his social climber daughters) Père Goriot lives in a garret on the top floor.

I have read Le Père Goriot several times in both the original French and English translation.

 

 

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email, Roger Smith to Diana Brown

July 26, 2020

 

Loved your brilliant post on “Père Goriot,” Diana. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels and probably Balzac’s best. I first read it in college in French. I had a very good professor for third year French.

I’ve read “Père Goriot” several times in both French and English. It and Balzac’s unique genius can be enjoyed and appreciated on many levels. Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house is indeed a microcosm of society; and she, and the others, is a character only a Balzac or a Charles Dickens could create.

 

 

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addendum:

 

 

For reference, I have posted the text of the first few pages of Chapter 1, in English translation (by A. J. Krailsheimer), here. The brilliance of the novel is apparent from the first few lines. I have sometimes thought of Balzac as a sort of French Theodore Dreiser (or the reverse); Dreiser in his formative years was greatly influenced by Balzac’s novels. But, without intending disrespect to Dreiser, I would say that Balzac is unquestionably the greater writer. Both Dreiser and Balzac wrote hastily, without fussing over niceties of style. Both had a capacity to create great stories and unforgettable characters.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

the beauty of Walt Whitman’s images

 

 

 

the beauty of Whitman’s images

 

 

This post is in the format of a 26-page essay (downloadable Word document above).

My essay is entitled “The Beauty of Walt Whitman’s Images.”

 

 

from the introduction:

 

I have become well acquainted with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass through repeated readings — I have committed many lines to memory. From familiarity — and, I suppose one would say, the spiritual comfort Whitman’s poetry gives me — Leaves of Grass has become a sort of Bible for me.

Below is a compilation by me of striking, beautiful, brilliant — so original, and often unique — images that I have culled from Leaves of Grass. I think they prove that Whitman, who is deliberately and studiously non-literary — without affectation and without using common poetic tropes — constantly infuses his poetry with images of startling beauty. That’s the best way I know how to put it.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    June 2020

James Joyce, Defoe lecture (Trieste, 1912)

 

 

Joyce, ‘Daniele Defoe’ (Italian)

 

Joyce, ‘Daniel Defoe’ (English)

 

 

The above downloadable Word documents contain the full texts — in the original Italian and English translation — of a lecture on Daniel Defoe that James Joyce delivered at the Univerità Populare, Trieste, Italy in 1912.

A bilingual edition of this lecture is virtually unobtainable — in print or on line. (The Defoe lecture, which was accompanied by one Joyce gave on William Blake, was presumed to be lost or unavailable for a long time.)  I managed to obtain separate texts and have transcribed the entire lecture for posting here.

Defoe and his works have long been an interest of mine, and my appreciation as well as interest in him continues to grow.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

“The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it” … “some are so bold as to think my book of travels a mere fiction out of mine own brain”

 

 

 

THE PREFACE.

 

IF ever the Story of any private Man’s Adventures in the World were worth making Publick, and were acceptable when Publish’d, the Editor of this Account thinks this will be so.

The Wonders of this man’s Life exceed all that (he thinks) is to be found extant: the Life of one Man being scarce capable of a greater Variety.

The Story is told with Modesty, with Seriousness. and with a religious Application of Events to the Uses to which wise Men always apply them (viz.) to the Instruction of others by this Example, and to justify and honour the Wisdom of Providence in all the Variety of our Circumstances. let them happen how they will.

The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it: And however thinks, because all such things are dispatch’d, that the Improvement of it, as well to the Diversion, as to the Instruction of the Reader, will be the same: and as such, he thinks, without farther Compliment to the World. he does them a great Service in the Publication. [italics added]

 
— Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

 

 

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THE PUBLISHER TO THE READER.

 
The author of these Travels, Mr. Lemuel Gulliver, is my ancient and intimate friend; there is likewise some relation between us on the mother’s side.  About three years ago, Mr. Gulliver growing weary of the concourse of curious people coming to him at his house in Redriff, made a small purchase of land, with a convenient house, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire, his native country; where he now lives retired, yet in good esteem among his neighbours.

Although Mr. Gulliver was born in Nottinghamshire, where his father dwelt, yet I have heard him say his family came from Oxfordshire; to confirm which, I have observed in the churchyard at Banbury in that county, several tombs and monuments of the Gullivers.

Before he quitted Redriff, he left the custody of the following papers in my hands, with the liberty to dispose of them as I should think fit.  I have carefully perused them three times.  The style is very plain and simple; and the only fault I find is, that the author, after the manner of travellers, is a little too circumstantial.  There is an air of truth apparent through the whole; and indeed the author was so distinguished for his veracity, that it became a sort of proverb among his neighbours at Redriff, when any one affirmed a thing, to say, it was as true as if Mr. Gulliver had spoken it.

By the advice of several worthy persons, to whom, with the author’s permission, I communicated these papers, I now venture to send them into the world, hoping they may be, at least for some time, a better entertainment to our young noblemen, than the common scribbles of politics and party.

This volume would have been at least twice as large, if I had not made bold to strike out innumerable passages relating to the winds and tides, as well as to the variations and bearings in the several voyages, together with the minute descriptions of the management of the ship in storms, in the style of sailors; likewise the account of longitudes and latitudes; wherein I have reason to apprehend, that Mr. Gulliver may be a little dissatisfied.  But I was resolved to fit the work as much as possible to the general capacity of readers.  However, if my own ignorance in sea affairs shall have led me to commit some mistakes, I alone am answerable for them.  And if any traveller hath a curiosity to see the whole work at large, as it came from the hands of the author, I will be ready to gratify him.

As for any further particulars relating to the author, the reader will receive satisfaction from the first pages of the book.

 

RICHARD SYMPSON.

 

 

 
A LETTER FROM CAPTAIN GULLIVER TO HIS COUSIN SYMPSON.

Written in the Year 1727.

 

I hope you will be ready to own publicly, whenever you shall be called to it, that by your great and frequent urgency you prevailed on me to publish a very loose and uncorrect account of my travels, with directions to hire some young gentleman of either university to put them in order, and correct the style, as my cousin Dampier did, by my advice, in his book called “A Voyage round the world.”  But I do not remember I gave you power to consent that any thing should be omitted, and much less that any thing should be inserted; therefore, as to the latter, I do here renounce every thing of that kind; particularly a paragraph about her majesty Queen Anne, of most pious and glorious memory; although I did reverence and esteem her more than any of human species.  But you, or your interpolator, ought to have considered, that it was not my inclination, so was it not decent to praise any animal of our composition before my master Houyhnhnm: And besides, the fact was altogether false; for to my knowledge, being in England during some part of her majesty’s reign, she did govern by a chief minister; nay even by two successively, the first whereof was the lord of Godolphin, and the second the lord of Oxford; so that you have made me say the thing that was not.  Likewise in the account of the academy of projectors, and several passages of my discourse to my master Houyhnhnm, you have either omitted some material circumstances, or minced or changed them in such a manner, that I do hardly know my own work.  When I formerly hinted to you something of this in a letter, you were pleased to answer that you were afraid of giving offence; that people in power were very watchful over the press, and apt not only to interpret, but to punish every thing which looked like an innuendo (as I think you call it).  But, pray how could that which I spoke so many years ago, and at about five thousand leagues distance, in another reign, be applied to any of the Yahoos, who now are said to govern the herd; especially at a time when I little thought, or feared, the unhappiness of living under them?  Have not I the most reason to complain, when I see these very Yahoos carried by Houyhnhnms in a vehicle, as if they were brutes, and those the rational creatures?  And indeed to avoid so monstrous and detestable a sight was one principal motive of my retirement hither.

Thus much I thought proper to tell you in relation to yourself, and to the trust I reposed in you.

I do, in the next place, complain of my own great want of judgment, in being prevailed upon by the entreaties and false reasoning of you and some others, very much against my own opinion, to suffer my travels to be published.  Pray bring to your mind how often I desired you to consider, when you insisted on the motive of public good, that the Yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment by precept or example: and so it has proved; for, instead of seeing a full stop put to all abuses and corruptions, at least in this little island, as I had reason to expect; behold, after above six months warning, I cannot learn that my book has produced one single effect according to my intentions.  I desired you would let me know, by a letter, when party and faction were extinguished; judges learned and upright; pleaders honest and modest, with some tincture of common sense, and Smithfield blazing with pyramids of law books; the young nobility’s education entirely changed; the physicians banished; the female Yahoos abounding in virtue, honour, truth, and good sense; courts and levees of great ministers thoroughly weeded and swept; wit, merit, and learning rewarded; all disgracers of the press in prose and verse condemned to eat nothing but their own cotton, and quench their thirst with their own ink.  These, and a thousand other reformations, I firmly counted upon by your encouragement; as indeed they were plainly deducible from the precepts delivered in my book.  And it must be owned, that seven months were a sufficient time to correct every vice and folly to which Yahoos are subject, if their natures had been capable of the least disposition to virtue or wisdom.  Yet, so far have you been from answering my expectation in any of your letters; that on the contrary you are loading our carrier every week with libels, and keys, and reflections, and memoirs, and second parts; wherein I see myself accused of reflecting upon great state folk; of degrading human nature (for so they have still the confidence to style it), and of abusing the female sex.  I find likewise that the writers of those bundles are not agreed among themselves; for some of them will not allow me to be the author of my own travels; and others make me author of books to which I am wholly a stranger.

I find likewise that your printer has been so careless as to confound the times, and mistake the dates, of my several voyages and returns; neither assigning the true year, nor the true month, nor day of the month: and I hear the original manuscript is all destroyed since the publication of my book; neither have I any copy left: however, I have sent you some corrections, which you may insert, if ever there should be a second edition: and yet I cannot stand to them; but shall leave that matter to my judicious and candid readers to adjust it as they please.

I hear some of our sea Yahoos find fault with my sea-language, as not proper in many parts, nor now in use.  I cannot help it.  In my first voyages, while I was young, I was instructed by the oldest mariners, and learned to speak as they did.  But I have since found that the sea Yahoos are apt, like the land ones, to become new-fangled in their words, which the latter change every year; insomuch, as I remember upon each return to my own country their old dialect was so altered, that I could hardly understand the new.  And I observe, when any Yahoo comes from London out of curiosity to visit me at my house, we neither of us are able to deliver our conceptions in a manner intelligible to the other.

If the censure of the Yahoos could any way affect me, I should have great reason to complain, that some of them are so bold as to think my book of travels a mere fiction out of mine own brain, and have gone so far as to drop hints, that the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos have no more existence than the inhabitants of Utopia. [italics added]

Indeed I must confess, that as to the people of Lilliput, Brobdingrag (for so the word should have been spelt, and not erroneously Brobdingnag), and Laputa, I have never yet heard of any Yahoo so presumptuous as to dispute their being, or the facts I have related concerning them; because the truth immediately strikes every reader with conviction.  And is there less probability in my account of the Houyhnhnms or Yahoos, when it is manifest as to the latter, there are so many thousands even in this country, who only differ from their brother brutes in Houyhnhnmland, because they use a sort of jabber, and do not go naked?  I wrote for their amendment, and not their approbation.  The united praise of the whole race would be of less consequence to me, than the neighing of those two degenerate Houyhnhnms I keep in my stable; because from these, degenerate as they are, I still improve in some virtues without any mixture of vice.

Do these miserable animals presume to think, that I am so degenerated as to defend my veracity?  Yahoo as I am, it is well known through all Houyhnhnmland, that, by the instructions and example of my illustrious master, I was able in the compass of two years (although I confess with the utmost difficulty) to remove that infernal habit of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the very souls of all my species; especially the Europeans.

I have other complaints to make upon this vexatious occasion; but I forbear troubling myself or you any further.  I must freely confess, that since my last return, some corruptions of my Yahoo nature have revived in me by conversing with a few of your species, and particularly those of my own family, by an unavoidable necessity; else I should never have attempted so absurd a project as that of reforming the Yahoo race in this kingdom: But I have now done with all such visionary schemes for ever.

April 2, 1727

 

 

— Jonathan Swift, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (1726)

 

 

 

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For some unaccountable reason, the Preface to Robinson Crusoe is rarely printed in current editions of the book.

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2020