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Swift went to Ireland in 1699 as chaplain and secretary to Lord Berkeley, one of the Lords Justices. Lady Berkeley evinced a singular partiality for Boyle's Meditations, which she would ask Swift to read aloud to her of an evening. Weary of these pious platitudes, he at last ventured to substitute a meditation of his own, On a Broomstick, which Lady Berkeley accepted in all good faith; until the fraud being discovered by more discerning persons, Swift was relieved from further persecution at the hands of the Honourable Robert Boyle. The parody was published in 1710.
A MEDITATION UPON A BROOMSTICK
HIS singlestick, which you now behold ingloriously
flourishing state in a forest: it was full of sap, full of leaves, and full of boughs: but now, in vain does the busy art of man pretend to vie with nature, by tying that withered bundle of twigs to its sapless trunk: it is now, at best, but the reverse of what it was, a tree turned upside down, the branches on the earth, and the root in the air; it is now handled by every dirty wench, condemned to do her drudgery, and, by a capricious kind of fate, destined to make other things clean and be nasty itself; at length, worn to the stumps in the service of the maids, it is either thrown out of doors, or condemned to the last use of kindling a fire. When I beheld this, I sighed, and said within myself, Surely man is a Broomstick! Nature sent him into the world strong and lusty, in a thriving condition, wearing his own hair on his head, the proper branches of this reasoning vegetable, until the axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs, and left him a withered trunk he then flies to art, and puts on a periwig, valuing himself upon an unnatural bundle of hairs (all covered with powder), that never grew on his head; but now, should this our broomstick pretend to enter
A MEDITATION UPON A BROOMSTICK the scene, proud of those birchen spoils it never bore, and all covered with dust, though the sweepings of the finest lady's chamber, we should be apt to ridicule and despise its vanity. Partial judges that we are of our own excellences and other men's defaults!
But a broomstick, perhaps you will say, is an emblem of a tree standing on its head: and pray what is man but a topsyturvy creature, his animal faculties perpetually mounted on his rational, his head where his heels should be, grovelling on the earth! And yet, with all his faults, he sets up to be a universal reformer and correcter of abuses, a remover of grievances, rakes into every slut's corner of nature, bringing hidden corruption to the light, and raises a mighty dust where there was none before; sharing deeply all the while in the very same pollutions he pretends to sweep away: his last days are spent in slavery to women, and generally the least deserving; till, worn out to the stumps, like his brother besom, he is either kicked out of doors, or made use of to kindle flames for others to warm themselves by.
TRAVELS INTO SEVERAL REMOTE NATIONS OF
BY LEMUEL GULLIVER,
FIRST A SURGEON, AND THEN A CAPTAIN OF SEVERAL SHIPS.
Gulliver's Travels were first published in Nov. 1726, but had been known to Swift's friends for at least five years previously. His own account of the motives which led to the writing of the work is found in a letter to Pope of Sept. 29, 1725. "I am now returning to the noble scene of Dublin, into the grand monde, for fear of burying my parts, to signalize myself among curates and vicars, and correct all corruptions crept in, relating to the weight of bread and butter, through those dominions which I govern. I have employed my time (beside ditching) in finishing, correcting, and transcribing my travels, in four parts complete, newly augmented, and intended for the press when the world shall deserve them, or rather when a printer shall be found brave enough to venture his ears. I like the scheme of our meeting after distresses and dispersions, but the chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it; and if I could compass that design without hurting my own person or fortune, I would be the most indefatigable writer you have ever seen without reading. I am exceedingly pleased that you have done with translations: lord treasurer Oxford often lamented that a rascally world should lay you under a necessity of misemploying your genius for so long a time. But since you will now be so much better employed, when you think of the world, give it one lash more at my request. I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals; for instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love counsellor such-a-one and judge such-aone: it is so with physicians, (I will not speak of my own trade,) soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. This is the system upon which I have governed myself many years (but do not tell); and so shall I go on till I have done with them. I have got materials towards a treatise proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale, and to show that it should be only rationis capax. Upon this great foundation of misanthropy (though not in Timon's manner) the whole building of my travels is erected; and I never will have peace of mind till all honest men are of my opinion. I am daily losing friends, and neither seeking nor getting others. O if the world had but a dozen Arbuthnots in it, I would burn my travels!"