Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4 (ctd.)

Gulliver asks his master for the permission to see more of the Yahoos and it is granted, with the sorrel nag acting as his bodyguard. Yahoos are very curious about him and come as close as they dare, imitating his actions but always with the expression of hatred, which Gulliver compares to a tame jackdaw “with cap and stockings” being persecuted by the wild ones. Where are the Helpful Footnotes when you really need them? Does he refer to actual mini-clothes put on tame birds? Was it like a thing in the 18th century? What he learns is not especially interesting: Yahoos are vile, dirty, they smell etc. They also can’t be put to any work except for drawing and carrying burdens, as Gulliver believes, not from their lack of intellect, because they can use it for malicious reasons, but because of their perverse nature. (I would say it’s a mark of high intelligence not to let anybody exploit you.) Once he caught a young Yahoo, about three years old and tried to soothe him, but the kid was howling so much it attracted the whole herd; he also defecated on Gulliver and he had to let him go. They are physically very agile and they can swim as well. The red-haired ones are more libidinous and malicious than others. The most crushing moment for Gulliver was when a young female Yahoo (probably not more than eleven years old) saw him bathing naked and ran after him into the river, embracing him until his horse companion scared her off. Gulliver has to admit this is the ultimate proof he is a Yahoo, if a female of this species feels sexually attracted to him – and he doesn’t even have an excuse she was a red-haired one. In fact, maybe because of her young age, she didn’t even look as disgusting as the rest.

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Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4

Gulliver’s master continues his search for parallels between humans and Yahoos. It often happens that when two Yahoos quarrel about a precious stone they’ve found, another comes and carries it away, which seems to him very much like the litigations Gulliver described. Gulliver is silent and reserves to himself the observation that actually, human courts are worse, because the Yahoos lose only the stone, but the litigation won’t stop until both of the parties have nothing left. What makes Yahoos so odious is that they eat everything, roots, berries or rotten meat. But they do seem to prefer the foods that come from afar, just like humans, and they eat until they are ready to burst, after which they seek a root which is a purgative. They also have a root which produces on them the same effect as alcohol on humans. Gulliver also observed that Yahoos are the only animals in the country prone to any diseases, which are still fewer than those of the horses living in his country. They are not caused by any ill treatment, but only by their greed, and the best cure is force-feeding them the mixture of their excrements and urine, which Gulliver recommends to his countrymen as well.

His master grants him in passing that indeed, Yahoos have nothing in the way of arts or manufacturing, like people do, but then he continues to look for similarities. He heard many Houyhnhnms observe that Yahoo herds have a leader, usually the most deformed one. The leader has a favourite, whose job is to lick his feet and posterior, and to drive females into his kennel. The favourite is hated by the rest of the herd and for that reason he usually keeps as close to the leader as possible. But usually he is ultimately replaced and then his successor and the whole herd throw excrement on him. His master says it’s up to Gulliver to decide whether it’s applicable to the courts and favourites in his country. Gulliver again has to stay silent, feeling ashamed that humans indeed are more stupid than hounds, who usually follow the ablest in the pack.

Gulliver’s master observes also that female Yahoos let males have sex with them when they are pregnant, and that male Yahoos fight with females as fiercely as with other males, both of which are disgusting practices no other animal does. Yahoos are also dirtier than any other animal, and Gulliver cannot contradict it, because there are no swine in that country, which although may be “a sweeter quadruped than a Yahoo”, certainly is not cleaner. Some Yahoos seem to suffer from some undefined malady, when they go into a corner and they howl and groan, for which illness the best cure is set them to hard work. Gulliver recognizes in that behaviour what in his country is called “spleen” and believes hard work would cure it in humans as well. Finally, his master describes the behaviour of female Yahoos, who try to attract the attention of males, then pretend to be scared and run off to a secluded place where she knows the male would follow. It was observed that at these times the females have the most offensive smell. When a strange female Yahoo arrives in the herd, other females will smell her, stare and chatter, and then turn off with the gestures of disdain. Gulliver recognizes these behaviours as female coquetry and love of scandal. He expects every moment that his master will tell him something about Yahoos’ “unnatural appetites”, but he says nothing, so Gulliver concludes that “these politer pleasures are entirely productions of art and reason, on our side of the globe.”

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4

Gulliver addresses the charge he imagines his readers may level at him (rightly so): that he runs down his race in front of the beings who are already predisposed to dislike them, because of their acquaintance with Yahoos. He explains that at this point his eyes were already opened by the virtue of Houyhnhnms and he thought there was no point in defending the honour of human race, especially to someone as acute and discerning as his master. He was hoping to be able to stay in their country forever, sharing their virtuous life. Still, he tried actually to tone down his criticism of human race (I am not sure where).

One morning, his master invites him, asks him to sit down (the honour which, Gulliver adds, was not granted him before) and shares his reflections with him. From Gulliver’s stories, he came to the conclusion that indeed, they are Yahoos, who used the little reason they have “to aggravate [their] natural corruptions”.  He sees many parallels between what Gulliver told him about his own people and the behaviour of Yahoos in his own country. Here Yahoos also hate one another like no other animals do; he thought it was because they can’t stand the way they look, but now, having heard Gulliver’s story, he realizes it’s because of the corruption of their nature. Here Yahoos also will fight violently over food, even if there is more than enough, and sometimes they fight for no apparent reason at all. The only difference between them and humans is that they cannot hurt one another much, because they lack the weapons. They are also very fond of some shiny stones, collect them and hide them from others. Once, as an experiment, his master took some of these stones from the hole where his Yahoo had been hiding them. The Yahoo started lamenting loudly, attacked other Yahoos, and could neither eat nor sleep till Gulliver’s master ordered his servant to put the stones back where he had taken them from; after which the Yahoo regained his health and humour, but made sure to put them in another hiding place.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4 (ctd.)

Gulliver continues his tirade against physicians, saying that they have one great skill, that is of prophecy: they invariably predict death when the disease turns out to be a serious one, and should the patient get better after all, they have means in their power to make him die and confirm their infallibility. The same means are very useful when they are employed by the husbands who got weary of their wives, eldest sons and ministers of state. His master asks him what the minister means, and Gulliver describes to him the prime minister as the most mendacious human being who never means what he says. There are three ways of becoming a prime minister: to make a female family member the mistress of the king, to undermine the previous prime minister or to inveigh against the corruption of the court. The third way is the best, because the wise princes know that those who are their most vehement critics, become their most obsequious servants when they are in their pay and they are quite happy to take bribes as well. The servants of the prime ministers also excel in the three main ingredients of politics, that is insolence, lying and bribery, and quite often they advance so much that they replace the prime minister himself. The real governor of the country is the prime minister’s aged mistress or favourite footman.

One day, Gulliver’s master says he thinks Gulliver must be of a noble family, because he is cleaner and smarter than the Yahoos he has known so far. He tells him that there is also a natural division into classes in his country, because the sorrel, white and iron grey horses are not as good physically or intellectually as the bay, dappled grey and black horses. The differentiation seems to me curiously fine, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, “iron grey” and “dapple grey” are just grey horses at different ages. You could argue, I guess, that Swift used this just to show how stupid racism is, because Gulliver’s master tells him that the “lower” races of horses don’t aspire to higher positions that being servants of the “higher” races, and any intermarriage between the two classes would be considered monstrous. But somehow I doubt it. Anyway, Gulliver puts his master straight, saying that the noblemen in his country are pampered as children, then they waster their vigour on riotous living, become infected with STDs, and finally marry rich, sickly and low-born women just for their money. Together they produce another generation of sickly children and so the noble families rarely last more than three generations, unless the wife finds a better biological father of her children. For that reason, if a nobleman looks robust, everybody assumes he must be the son of his mother’s coachman. Their minds are as degenerate as their bodies, but they are the ruling class in Gulliver’s country and nothing can be done without them.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4 (ctd.)

Gulliver’s master still quite doesn’t get why lawyers are ready to pester their fellow creatures and Gulliver has to explain to him the concept of money, which can apparently buy you anything: clothes, luxurious food, beautiful women etc. Only few rich people can afford that, but the majority are very poor. (There seems to be a logical hole: Houyhnhnms, even if they don’t have money, do seem to have a sense of private property and class structure, for instance Gulliver’s master has a farm and servants, so why should he find these things so alien, even if the Gini coefficient in his country seems to be much lower?) Gulliver’s master doesn’t understand the concept of “luxury food”, because Nature gives us everything we need, so Gulliver has to explain to him the idea of importing things from foreign countries. His master still quite doesn’t get it, thinking that it means his country must be very barren if it can’t feed its people, and Gulliver has to explain to him that England could quite easily feed three times as many people as live there now, and the import of food is not for necessity but for pampering, for instance wine, which brings intoxication and hangover. (He fails to mention that some English home-grown alcoholic drinks are even worse in this respect than wine.) To illustrate how luxurious and labour-intensive their lifestyles are, his says that the work of an hundred tradesmen is included in his ordinary day dress, and five hundred in the dress of his wife. And because of this evil of needing money, people are reduced to committing various crimes, of which Gulliver he gives a long list. Funnily, the last one is “freethinking”, which I don’t think ever brought anybody much money, at least in the period of history up to the composition of Gulliver’s Travels. Then he tries to explain to his master what doctors are, but again he encounters a difficulty, because Houhnhnms don’t know what an illness is, apart from feeling a bit worse a few days before they die, or an accidental wound. Gulliver explains that all diseases come from overindulgence, or sometimes can be inherited by children from their fathers, and there are too many of them to be listed. Gulliver, being a surgeon, can speak with some authority here. Physicians believe that all diseases come from an imbalance of substances in the body, and for that reason the main medicine they offer is purgatives made of various disgusting substances. There is a complicated joke about how physicians want to reverse the order of Nature, because we introduce things to our body through our mouth and expel them through “the other orifice”, but if you are sick, it means it has to be done the other way round, but honestly, I’m too tired to disentangle it.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4 (ctd.)

Gulliver’s master says he’s heard quite enough about war and asks to change the subject. Gulliver mentioned that some of his crew were driven to become sailors because they were ruined by law and he is curious why law, which should protect people, could cause anybody’s ruin. And what is this thing called law, anyway, because Nature and Reason should be enough for everyone to tell them what to do and what not to do. (There is a bit of logical error here: if Gulliver’s master doesn’t know what the law is, how can he think it’s something for man’s protection?) Gulliver’s explanation continues Swift’s line of thought that was already shown, I think, in Part 2: law is a charade to protect the dishonest and rob the honest. It is practised by a caste of people who are trained almost from their cradle in this trade. So when a neighbour wants to take my cow and hires a lawyer to do so, I have to hire another lawyer, but I am at a disadvantage, because it goes against the lawyer’s whole training to protect the innocent and consequently, he is not very good at it. The two solutions are, either to bribe the lawyer of the other side so that he implies his client is an honest man, and that will certainly lose him the case; or my lawyer can make my case appear as unjust as he can, because then the judge will certainly be on my side. He is going to do so, because the judges are the most corrupt of lawyers, and Gulliver knows a case when a judge refused a large bribe because it meant he would actually have to rule in favour of the party which was honest. The English precedent law means that the case is not decided on the grounds of justice but whether a judgement has been made in a similar case, and it has to be repeated, no matter how unfair the precedent judgement was. The laws are written on purpose in a jargon which only lawyers themselves can understand., and the pleading doesn’t revolve around the merits of the cause, but around silly details, like if the cow in question is black or red, so the trials can go on for thirty years. But this is not the case with crimes against the state, because then all the judge has to do is to consult those in power and ask them what decision they want him to make, so they proceed very swiftly. Gulliver’s master says it’s a pity that such intelligent men, as these lawyers must be, waste their talents on such ignominious trade when they could be the wise mentors to the people, but Gulliver assures him that outside of their own trade they are the stupidest men in the world.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 4 (ctd.)

Gulliver makes a short disclaimer that what follows is a kind of summary of many conversations he had with his master over the course of two years. He told his master about the Glorious Revolution and the War of the Spanish Succession. Swift greatly exaggerates the number of casualties in this particular war (one million), but unfortunately, since his times there have been many wars to which Swift’s satire could be just as applicable. When his master asks about the causes of wars, he embarks on a long list, punctuated with ironic “it is justifiable” or “it is honourable”. There are religious wars, which Swift describes ironically as wars over whether “flesh be bread, or bread be flesh”. There are wars over territory, entered because the enemy is too strong, or too  weak, or because a prince wants a piece of another’s territory to nicely round up his own.  For that reason “the trade of a soldier is held the most honourable of all others, because a soldier is a Yahoo hired to kill in cold blood as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can”. Some “beggarly princes” make a living out of hiring their soldiers to whoever pays them (the Helpful Footnote identifies it as a barb against George I).  His master thinks he must greatly exaggerate the number of casualties, because his mouth is too flat to bite properly, and his claws too short. Any Yahoo from the Houyhnhnm country would be able to drive away twelve like Gulliver. Gulliver then explains in a long list all military technology used by people to kill each other, which makes his master comment that up to this point, while he hated Yahoos, he considered their vileness to be just a part of their nature and didn’t really blame them for it anymore than he blamed a sharp stone for hurting his hoof. But when he hears about a creature pretending to some reason behaving in the way Gulliver describes, he starts to fear that the corruption of reason may be worse than brutality itself. He finds the idea that reason itself may be corrupted so uncomfortable that he comes up with an explanation for the behaviour of Gullivers’ species: they do not really possess reason, just some “quality fitted to increase our natural vices”, like the reflection of an ill-shaped body in a distorted water, increasing both its size and its distortion.