A Tale of a Tub: Written for the Uiversal Improvement of Mankind...

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J. Nutt, 1705 - 322 pages
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I've been struggling with molding these book reviews into a more blog friendly framework. Struggling with, and failing, in my opinion. At least it's something different, is the way I look at it. However- all that ends today with this write up of Jonathan Swift's 1704 classic "A Tale of a Tub."
You see, in 1704 the world was experiencing a proliferation of "new media" similar to what we're seeing today on the internet. Now, it's blogs; then it was pamphlets. A rise in literacy coupled with wider access to printing technology and lowered printing costs combined to create a newly democratic era of opinion. SOUND FAMILIAR?
"Tale of a Tub" is putatively a ham handed parable about a man with three sons, Peter, Martin & Jack. The man is god, his sons represent the Catholic Church, the Church of England and Protestants. Interspersed with the "story" chapters are numerous digressions, where the narrator- who is, in fact, supposed to come off as an idiot- makes numerous observations about the "culture of criticism" circa 1700 or so. You need to have some background in the era to appreciate quips about ancient vs. modern man or to chuckle out loud about the narrator's analysis of the history of criticism, but underneath the oblique references is some trenchant humor about the ease with which the newly empowered feel about venturing their (moronic) opinions about anything & everything.
In fact, it's easy to see how one might adapt this format into a similar critique of today's "snarky" blog culture. Every man and woman a critic, and every critic a know it all. In "Tale of a Tub" Swift calls' these folks stupid and it makes me wonder- where is our Jonathan Swift?

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Page 59 - Look on this globe of earth, you will find it to be a very complete and fashionable dress. What is that which some call land but a fine coat faced with green ? or the sea, but a waistcoat of water-tabby...
Page 139 - Thus physicians discover the state of the whole body, by consulting only what comes from behind. Thus men catch knowledge, by throwing their wit on the posteriors of a book, as boys do sparrows with flinging salt upon their tails.
Page 248 - ... question comes all to this; whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.
Page 243 - In this mansion he had for some time dwelt in peace and plenty, without danger to his person by swallows from above, or to his palace by brooms from below, when it was the pleasure of fortune to conduct thither a...
Page 247 - So that, in short, the question comes all to this ; whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride...
Page 154 - ... of what is most perfect, finished, and exalted; till, having soared out of his own reach and sight...
Page 175 - And he whose fortunes and dispositions have placed him in a convenient station to enjoy the fruits of this noble art ; he that can, with Epicurus, content his ideas with the films and images that fly off...
Page 250 - As for us the ancients, we are content, with the bee, to pretend to nothing of our own beyond our wings and our voice : that is to say, our flights and our language.
Page 8 - Books, like men their authors, have no more than one way of coming into the world, but there are ten thousand to go out of it, and return no more.
Page 26 - ... all the virtues that have been ever in mankind, are to be counted upon a few fingers ; but their follies and vices are innumerable, and time adds hourly to the heap.

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