A Tale of a Tub

A Tale of a Tub

Overview

A Tale of a Tub was the first major work written by Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

, composed between 1694 and 1697 and published in 1704. It is arguably his most difficult satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, and perhaps his most masterly. The Tale is a prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

 parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 which is divided into sections of "digression
Digression
Digression is a section of a composition or speech that is an intentional change of subject. In Classical rhetoric since Corax of Syracuse, especially in Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, the digression was a regular part of any oration or composition...

" and a "tale" of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity
Western Christianity
Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage...

.

The "tale" presents a consistent satire of religious excess, while the digressions are a series of parodies of contemporary writing in literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

, politics
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

, theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

, Biblical exegesis, and medicine.
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Encyclopedia

A Tale of a Tub was the first major work written by Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

, composed between 1694 and 1697 and published in 1704. It is arguably his most difficult satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, and perhaps his most masterly. The Tale is a prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

 parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 which is divided into sections of "digression
Digression
Digression is a section of a composition or speech that is an intentional change of subject. In Classical rhetoric since Corax of Syracuse, especially in Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, the digression was a regular part of any oration or composition...

" and a "tale" of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity
Western Christianity
Western Christianity is a term used to include the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and groups historically derivative thereof, including the churches of the Anglican and Protestant traditions, which share common attributes that can be traced back to their medieval heritage...

.

The "tale" presents a consistent satire of religious excess, while the digressions are a series of parodies of contemporary writing in literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

, politics
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

, theology
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

, Biblical exegesis, and medicine. The overarching parody is of enthusiasm
Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm originally meant inspiration or possession by a divine afflatus or by the presence of a god. Johnson's Dictionary, the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, defines enthusiasm as "a vain belief of private revelation; a vain confidence of divine favour or...

, pride, and credulity
Credulity
Credulity is a state of willingness to believe in one or many people or things in the absence of reasonable proof or knowledge.Credulity is not simply belief in something that may be false. The subject of the belief may even be correct, but a credulous person will believe it without good...

. At the time it was written, politics and religion were still linked very closely in England, and the religious and political aspects of the satire can often hardly be separated. "The work made Swift notorious, and was widely misunderstood, especially by Queen Anne herself who mistook its purpose for profanity." "It effectively disbarred its author from proper preferment within the church," but is considered one of Swift's best allegories, even by himself. It was enormously popular, but Swift believed it damaged his prospect of advancement in the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

.

Overview


A Tale of a Tub is divided between various forms of digression
Digression
Digression is a section of a composition or speech that is an intentional change of subject. In Classical rhetoric since Corax of Syracuse, especially in Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, the digression was a regular part of any oration or composition...

 and sections of a "tale." The "tale," or narrative, is an allegory
Allegory
Allegory is a demonstrative form of representation explaining meaning other than the words that are spoken. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation...

 that concerns the adventures of three brothers, Peter, Martin, and Jack, as they attempt to make their way in the world. Each of the brothers represents one of the primary branches of Christianity in the West. This part of the book is a pun on "tub," which Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson...

 says was a common term for a Dissenter's pulpit, and a reference to Swift's own position as a clergyman. Peter (named for Saint Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

) stands in for the Roman Catholic Church. Jack (named for John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

, but whom Swift also connects to "Jack of Leyden") represents the various Dissenting
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

 Protestant churches such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

, Congregationalists, or Anabaptist
Anabaptist
Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites....

s. The third brother, middle born and middle standing, is Martin (named for Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

), whom Swift uses to represent the 'via media' of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

. The brothers have inherited three wonderfully satisfactory coats (representing religious practice) by their father (representing God), and they have his will (representing the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

) to guide them. Although the will says that the brothers are forbidden from making any changes to their coats, they do nearly nothing but alter their coats from the start. In as much as the will represents the Bible and the coat represents the practice of Christianity, the allegory
Allegory
Allegory is a demonstrative form of representation explaining meaning other than the words that are spoken. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation...

 of the narrative is supposed to be an apology for the Anglican church's refusal to alter its practice in accordance with Puritan demands and its continued resistance to alliance with the Roman church.

From its opening (once past the prolegomena, which comprises the first three sections), the book alternates between Digression and Tale. However, the digressions overwhelm the narrative, both in terms of the forcefulness and imaginativeness of writing and in terms of volume. Furthermore, after Chapter X (the commonly anthologized "Digression on Madness"), the labels for the sections are incorrect. Sections then called "Tale" are Digressions, and those called "Digression" are also Digressions.

A Tale of a Tub is an enormous parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 with a number of smaller parodies within it. Many critics have followed Swift's biographer Irvin Ehrenpreis in arguing that there is no single, consistent narrator in the work. One difficulty with this position, however, is that if there is no single character posing as the author, then it is at least clear that nearly all of the "personae" employed by Swift for the parodies are so much alike that they function as a single identity. In general, whether a 20th-century reader would view the book as consisting of dozens of impersonations or a single one, Swift writes the Tale through the pose of a Modern or New Man. See the abridged discussion of the "Ancients and Moderns," below, for more on the nature of the "modern man" in Swift's day.

Swift's explanation for the title of the book is that the Ship of State was threatened by a whale (specifically, the Leviathan
Leviathan (book)
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil — commonly called simply Leviathan — is a book written by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan...

of Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

) and the new political societies (the Rota Club
Rota Club
The Rota Club refers to a debate society, composed of learned gentlemen, who debated republican ideology in London between November 1659 and February 1660. The Club was founded and dominated by James Harrington...

 is mentioned). His book is intended to be a tub that the sailors of state (the nobles and ministers) might toss over the side to divert the attention of the beast (those who questioned the government and its right to rule). Hobbes was highly controversial in the Restoration, but Swift's invocation of Hobbes might well be ironic. The narrative of the brothers is a faulty allegory, and Swift's narrator is either a madman or a fool. The book is not one that could occupy the Leviathan, or preserve the Ship of State, so Swift may be intensifying the dangers of Hobbes's critique rather than allaying them to provoke a more rational response.

The digressions individually frustrate readers who expect a clear purpose. Each digression
Digression
Digression is a section of a composition or speech that is an intentional change of subject. In Classical rhetoric since Corax of Syracuse, especially in Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, the digression was a regular part of any oration or composition...

 has its own topic, and each is an essay on its particular sidelight. In his biography of Swift, Ehrenpreis argued that each digression is an impersonation of a different contemporary author. This is the "persona theory," which holds that the Tale is not one parody, but rather a series of parodies, arising out of chamber performance in the Temple
William Temple (British politician)
Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet was an English statesman and essayist.Sir William was the son of Sir John Temple of Dublin and nephew of Rev Dr Thomas Temple DD. Born in London, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he travelled across Europe, and was for some time a member of the Irish...

 household. Prior to Ehrenpreis, some critics had argued that the narrator of the Tale is a character, just as the narrator of a novel would be. Given the evidence of A. C. Elias about the acrimony of Swift's departure from the Temple household, evidence from Swift's Journal to Stella about how uninvolved in the Temple household Swift had been, and the number of repeated observations about himself by the Tale's author, it seems reasonable to propose that the digressions reflect a single type of man, if not a particular character.

In any case, the digressions are each readerly tests; each tests whether or not the reader is intelligent and skeptical enough to detect nonsense. Some, such as the discussion of ears or of wisdom being like a nut, a cream sherry, a cackling hen, etc., are outlandish and require a militantly aware and thoughtful reader. Each is a trick, and together they train the reader to sniff out bunk and to reject the unacceptable.

Cultural setting


During the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

 the print revolution began to change every aspect of British society. It became possible for anyone to spend a small amount of money and have his or her opinions published as a broadsheet, and to gain access to the latest discoveries in science, literature, and political theory, as books became less expensive and digests and "indexes" of the sciences grew more numerous. The difficulty lay in discerning truth from falsehood, credible claims from impossible one. Swift writes A Tale of a Tub in the guise of a narrator who is excited and gullible about what the new world has to offer, and feels that he is quite the equal or superior of any author who ever lived because he, unlike them, possesses 'technology' and newer opinions. Swift seemingly asks the question of what a person with no discernment but with a thirst for knowledge would be like, and the answer is the narrator of Tale of a Tub.

Swift was annoyed by people who were so eager to possess the newest knowledge that they failed to pose skeptical questions. If he was not a particular fan of the aristocracy, he was a sincere opponent of democracy, which was often viewed then as the sort of "mob rule
Ochlocracy
Ochlocracy or mob rule is government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities.As a pejorative for majoritarianism, it is akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning "the fickle crowd", from which the English term "mob" was originally derived in the...

" that led to the worst abuses of the English Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

. Swift's satire was intended to provide a genuine service by painting the portrait of conspiracy minded and injudicious writers.

At that time in England, politics, religion and education were unified in a way that they are not now. The monarch was the head of the state church. Each school (secondary and university) had a political tradition. Officially, there was no such thing as "Whig
British Whig Party
The Whigs were a party in the Parliament of England, Parliament of Great Britain, and Parliament of the United Kingdom, who contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule...

 and Tory
Tory
Toryism is a traditionalist and conservative political philosophy which grew out of the Cavalier faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is a prominent ideology in the politics of the United Kingdom, but also features in parts of The Commonwealth, particularly in Canada...

" at the time, but the labels are useful and were certainly employed by writers themselves. The two major parties were associated with religious and economic groups. The implications of this unification of politics, class, and religion are important. Although it is somewhat extreme and simplistic to put it this way, failing to be for the Church was failing to be for the monarch; having an interest in physics and trade was to be associated with dissenting religion and the Whig Party. When Swift attacks the lovers of all things modern, he is thereby attacking the new world of trade, of dissenting religious believers, and, to some degree, an emergent portion of the Whig Party.

Authorial background


Born of English parents in Ireland, Jonathan Swift was working as Sir William Temple's secretary at the time he composed A Tale of a Tub (1694–1697). The publication of the work coincided with Swift's striking out on his own, having despaired of getting a good "living" from Temple or Temple's influence. There is speculation about what caused the rift between Swift and his employer, but, as A. C. Elias persuasively argues, it seems that the final straw came with Swift's work on Temple's Letters. Swift had been engaged to translate Temple's French correspondence, but Temple, or someone close to Temple, edited the French text to make Temple seem both prescient and more fluent. Consequently, the letters and the translations Swift provided did not gibe, and, since Swift could not accuse Temple of falsifying his letters, and because the public would never believe that the retired state minister had lied, Swift came across as incompetent.


Even though Swift published the "Tale" as he left Temple's service, it was conceived earlier, and the book is a salvo in one of Temple's battles. Swift's general polemic concerns an argument (the "Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns
Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns
The quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns was a literary and artistic debate that heated up in the early 1690s and shook the Académie française.-Description:...

") that had been over for nearly ten years by the time the book was published. The "Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns" was generally a French academic brouhaha of the early 1690s, occasioned by Fontenelle
Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle , also called Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle, was a French author.Fontenelle was born in Rouen, France and died in Paris just one month before his 100th birthday. His mother was the sister of great French dramatists Pierre and Thomas Corneille...

 arguing that modern scholarship had allowed modern man to surpass the ancients in knowledge. Temple argued against this position in his "On Ancient and Modern Learning" (where he provided the first English formulation of the commonplace that modern critics see more only because they are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants), and Temple's somewhat naive essay prompted a small flurry of responses. Among others, two men who took the side opposing Temple were Richard Bentley
Richard Bentley
Richard Bentley was an English classical scholar, critic, and theologian. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge....

 (classicist and editor) and William Wotton
William Wotton
William Wotton was an English scholar, chiefly remembered for his remarkable abilities in learning languages and for his involvement in the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. In Wales he is remembered as the collector and first translator of the ancient Welsh laws.-Early years:William Wotton...

 (critic).

The entire discussion in England was over by 1696, and yet it seems to have fired Swift's imagination. Swift saw in the opposing camps of Ancients and Moderns a shorthand of two general ways of looking at the world (see the historical background, below, for some of the senses in which "new men" and "ancients" might be understood). The Tale of a Tub attacks all who praise modernity over classical learning. Temple had done as much, but Swift, unlike Temple, has no praise for the classical world, either. There is no normative value in Rome, no lost English glen, no hearth ember to be invoked against the hubris of modern scientism. Some critics have seen in Swift's reluctance to praise mankind in any age proof of his misanthropy, and others have detected in it an overarching hatred of pride. At the same time, the Tale revived the Quarrel of Ancients and Moderns at least enough to prompt Wotton to come out with a new edition of his pamphlet attacking Temple, and he appended to it an essay against the author of A Tale of a Tub. Swift was able to cut pieces from Wotton's "Answer" to include in the fifth edition of the Tale as "Notes" at the bottom of the page. Swift's satire also gave something of a framework for other satirists in the Scriblerian circle, and Modern vs. Ancient is picked up as one distinction between political and cultural forces.

If Swift hoped that the Tale of a Tub would win him a living, he would have been disappointed. Swift himself believed that the book cost him any chance of high position within the church. It is most likely, though, that Swift was not seeking a clerical position with the Tale. Instead, it was probably meant to establish him as a literary and political figure and to strike out a set of positions that would win the notice of influential men. This it did. As a consequence of this work, and Swift's activity in Church causes, Swift became a familiar of Robert Harley
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer KG was a British politician and statesman of the late Stuart and early Georgian periods. He began his career as a Whig, before defecting to a new Tory Ministry. Between 1711 and 1714 he served as First Lord of the Treasury, effectively Queen...

, future Earl of Oxford
Earl of Oxford
Earl of Oxford is a dormant title in the Peerage of England, held for several centuries by the de Vere family from 1141 until the death of the 20th earl in 1703. The Veres were also hereditary holders of the office of master or Lord Great Chamberlain from 1133 until the death of the 18th Earl in 1625...

, and Henry St. John
Henry St. John
Henry St. John is the name of:*Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke , English politician and philosopher*Henry St. John , U.S. Representative from OhioHenry St...

, the future Viscount Bolingbroke
Viscount Bolingbroke
Viscount Bolingbroke / Viscount St John is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain and is currently held by Nicholas Alexander Mowbray St John, the 9th Viscount Bolingbroke and 10th Viscount St John who lives in Sydney Australia....

). When the Tories gained the government in 1710, Swift was rewarded for his work. By 1713–14, however, the Tory government had fallen, and Swift was "rewarded" with the Deanery of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
Saint Patrick's Cathedral , or more formally, the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Patrick is a cathedral of the Church of Ireland in Dublin, Ireland which was founded in 1191. The Church has designated it as The National Cathedral of Ireland...

—a reward he considered an exile.

Nature of the satire



Upon its publication, the public realized both that there was an allegory in the story of the brothers and that there were particular political references in the Digressions. A number of "Keys" appeared soon thereafter, analogous to contemporary services like CliffsNotes
CliffsNotes
CliffsNotes are a series of student study guides available primarily in the United States. The guides present and explain literary and other works in pamphlet form or online. Detractors of the study guides claim they let students bypass reading the assigned literature...

 or Spark Notes. "Keys" offered the reader a commentary on the Tale and explanations of its references. Edmund Curll
Edmund Curll
Edmund Curll was an English bookseller and publisher. His name has become synonymous, through the attacks on him by Alexander Pope, with unscrupulous publication and publicity. Curll rose from poverty to wealth through his publishing, and he did this by approaching book printing in a mercenary...

 rushed out a Key to the work, and William Wotton offered up an "Answer" to the author of the work.

Swift's targets in the Tale included indexers, note-makers, and, above all, people who saw "dark matter" in books. Attacking criticism generally, he appears delighted that one of his enemies, William Wotton
William Wotton
William Wotton was an English scholar, chiefly remembered for his remarkable abilities in learning languages and for his involvement in the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. In Wales he is remembered as the collector and first translator of the ancient Welsh laws.-Early years:William Wotton...

, offered to explain the Tale in an "answer" to the book and that one of the men he had explicitly attacked, Curll, offered to explain the book to the public. In the fifth edition of the book in 1710, Swift provided an apparatus to the work that incorporated Wotton's explanations and Swift's narrator's own notes as well. The notes appear to occasionally provide genuine information and just as often to mislead, and William Wotton's name, a defender of the Moderns, was appended to a number of notes. This allows Swift to make the commentary part of the satire itself, as well as to elevate his narrator to the level of self-critic.

It is hard to say what the Tale's satire is about, since it is about any number of things. It is most consistent in attacking misreading of all sorts. Both in the narrative sections and the digressions, the single human flaw that underlies all the follies Swift attacks is over-figurative and over-literal reading, both of the Bible and of poetry and political prose. The narrator is seeking hidden knowledge, mechanical operations of things spiritual, spiritual qualities to things physical, and alternate readings of everything.

Within the "tale" sections of the book, Peter, Martin, and Jack fall into bad company (becoming the official religion of the Roman empire) and begin altering their coats (faith) by adding ornaments. They then begin relying on Peter to be the arbitrator of the will. He begins to rule by authority (he remembered the handyman saying that he once heard the father say that it was acceptable to don more ornaments), until such a time that Jack rebels against the rule of Peter. Jack begins to read the will (the Bible) overly literally. He rips the coat to shreds in order to restore the original state of the garment which represents the "primitive Christianity" sought by dissenters. He begins to rely only upon "inner illumination" for guidance and thus walks around with his eyes closed, after swallowing candle snuffs. Eventually, Peter and Jack begin to resemble one another, and only Martin is left with a coat that is at all like the original.

An important factor in the reception of Swift's work is that the narrator of the work is an extremist in every direction. Consequently, he can no more construct a sound allegory than he can finish his digressions without losing control (eventually confessing that he is insane). For a Church of England reader, the allegory of the brothers provides small comfort. Martin has a corrupted faith, one full of holes and still with ornaments on it. His only virtue is that he avoids the excesses of his brothers, but the original faith is lost to him. Readers of the Tale have picked up on this unsatisfactory resolution to both "parts" of the book, and A Tale of a Tub has often been offered up as evidence of Swift's misanthropy
Misanthropy
Misanthropy is generalized dislike, distrust, disgust, contempt or hatred of the human species or human nature. A misanthrope, or misanthropist is someone who holds such views or feelings...

.

As has recently been argued by Michael McKeon, Swift might best be described as a severe skeptic, rather than a Whig, Tory, empiricist, or religious writer. He supported the Classics in the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, and he supported the established church and the aristocracy, because he felt the alternatives were worse. He argued elsewhere that there is nothing inherently virtuous about a noble birth, but its advantages of wealth and education made the aristocrat a better ruler than the equally virtuous but unprivileged commoner. A Tale of a Tub is a perfect example of Swift's devastating intellect at work. By its end, little seems worth believing in.

Formally, the satire in the Tale is historically novel for several reasons. First, Swift more or less invented prose parody. In the "Apology for the &c." (which was added in 1710), Swift explains that his work is, in several places, a "parody," which is where he imitates the style of persons he wishes to expose. What is interesting is that the word "parody" had not been used for prose before, and the definition he offers is arguably a parody of John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

 defining "parody" in the Discourse of Satire (the Preface to Dryden's translations of Juvenal's and Persius' satires). Prior to Swift, parodies were imitations designed to bring mirth, but not primarily in the form of mockery. Dryden himself imitated the Aeneid
Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

 in "MacFlecknoe" to describe the apotheosis of a dull poet, but the imitation made fun of the poet, and not of Virgil.

Additionally, Swift's satire is relatively unique in that he offers no resolutions. While he ridicules any number of foolish habits, he never offers the reader a positive set of values to embrace. While this type of satire became more common as people imitated Swift, later, Swift is quite unusual in offering the readers no way out. He does not persuade to any position, but he does persuade readers from an assortment of positions. This is one of the qualities that has made the Tale Swift's least-read major work.

Historical background


In the historical background to the period of 1696–1705, the most important political events might be the Restoration of Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 in 1660, the Test Act
Test Act
The Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that served as a religious test for public office and imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and Nonconformists...

, and the English Settlement
English Settlement
English Settlement is the fifth studio album by British alternative rock band XTC, released on 12 February 1982. The album reached No. 5 on the UK Album Chart and No. 48 on the Billboard 200 album chart....

 or Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 of 1688–1689. Politically, the English had suffered a Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 that had culminated with the beheading of the king, years of the Interregnum
English Interregnum
The English Interregnum was the period of parliamentary and military rule by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell under the Commonwealth of England after the English Civil War...

 under the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

, and then Parliament inviting the king back to rule in 1660. Upon Charles II's death, his brother, James II of England
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

 took the throne. However, when it was alleged that James was Roman Catholic and married to a Roman Catholic, the English parliament invited William of Orange to rule in his stead, forcing James to flee the country under military threat. Parliament decided on the way in which all future English monarchs would be chosen. This method would always favor Protestantism over blood line.


From the point of view of the politically aware Englishman, Parliament had essentially elected a king. Although officially the king was supreme, there could be no doubt that the Commons had picked the king and could pick another instead. Although there was now a law demanding that all swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the church, it became less and less clear why the nation was to be so intolerant.

Religious conflict at the time was primarily between the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 and the dissenting churches. The threat posed by the intolerant dissenters was keenly felt by Establishment clerics like Jonathan Swift. It was common enough for Puritans and other dissenters to disrupt church services, to accuse political leaders of being the anti-Christ, and to move the people toward violent schism, riots, and peculiar behaviors including attempts to set up miniature theocracies. Protestant dissenters had led the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

. The pressure of dissenters was felt on all levels of British politics and could be seen in the change of the British economy.

The Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 was beginning in the period between the writing and publication of A Tale of a Tub, though no one at the time would have known this. What Englishmen did know, however, was that what they called "trade" was on the rise. Merchants, importers/exporters, and "stock jobbers" were growing very wealthy. It was becoming more common to find members of the aristocracy with less money than members of the trading class. Those on the rise in the middle class professions were perceived as being more likely to be dissenters than members of the other classes were, and such institutions as the stock exchange and Lloyd's of London
Lloyd's of London
Lloyd's, also known as Lloyd's of London, is a British insurance and reinsurance market. It serves as a partially mutualised marketplace where multiple financial backers, underwriters, or members, whether individuals or corporations, come together to pool and spread risk...

 were founded by Puritan traders. Members of these classes were also widely ridiculed as attempting to pretend to learning and manners that they had no right to. Further, these "new men" were not, by and large, the product of the universities nor the traditional secondary schools. Consequently, these now wealthy individuals were not conversant in Latin, were not enamored of the classics, and were not inclined to put much value on these things.

Between 1688 and 1705, England was politically unstable. The accession of Queen Anne
Anne of Great Britain
Anne ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Act of Union, two of her realms, England and Scotland, were united as a single sovereign state, the Kingdom of Great Britain.Anne's Catholic father, James II and VII, was deposed during the...

 led to a feeling of vulnerability among Establishment figures. Anne was rumored to be immoderately stupid and was supposedly governed by her friend, Sarah Churchill
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
Sarah Churchill , Duchess of Marlborough rose to be one of the most influential women in British history as a result of her close friendship with Queen Anne of Great Britain.Sarah's friendship and influence with Princess Anne was widely known, and leading public figures...

, wife of the Duke of Marlborough. Although Swift was a Whig for much of this period, he was allied most nearly with the Ancients camp (which is to say Establishment, Church of England, aristocracy, traditional education), and he was politically active in the service of the Church. He claims, both in "The Apology for the &c." and in a reference in Book I of Gulliver's Travels, to have written the Tale to defend the crown from the troubles of the monsters besetting it. These monsters were numerous. At this time, political clubs and societies were proliferating. The print revolution had meant that people were gathering under dozens of banners, and political and religious sentiments previously unspoken were now rallying supporters. As the general dissenting position became the monied position, and as Parliament increasingly held power, historically novel degrees of freedom had brought an historically tenuous equipoise of change and stability.

Publication history


The Tale was originally published in 1704 by John Nutt
John Nutt (printer)
Elizabeth Nutt and John Nutt were printers and booksellers and distributors in London in the early 18th century...

. Swift had used Benjamin Tooke previously when publishing for Sir William Temple, he would use Tooke for both the fifth edition of the Tale (1710) and later works, and it was Tooke's successor, Benjamin Motte, who published Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This difference in printer is only one of the things that led to debate over authorship of the work.

The first, second, and third editions of the Tale appeared in 1704; the fifth edition came out in 1710. In "The Apology for the &c.," Swift indicates that he originally gave his publisher a preliminary copy of the work, while he kept a blotted copy at his own hand and lent other copies including one to Thomas Swift, Jonathan's "parson cousin". As a consequence, the first edition appeared with many errors. The second edition was a resetting of the type. The third edition was a reprint of the second, with corrections, and the fourth edition contained corrections of the third.

The first substantially new edition of the work is the fifth edition of 1710. This is largely the text modern editors will use. It was in this edition that the Notes and the "Apology for the &c." ("&c." was Swift's shorthand for Tale of a Tub: Nutt was supposed to expand the abbreviation out to the book's title but did not do so; the mistake was left) were added, which many contemporary readers and authors found a heating up of an already savage satire.

Authorship debate


Although today very little of this debate remains, questions of the authorship of the Tale occupied many notable critics both in the 18th and 19th centuries. Famously, Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

 claimed that A Tale of a Tub was a work of true genius (in contrast to Gulliver's Travels
Gulliver's Travels
Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, better known simply as Gulliver's Travels , is a novel by Anglo-Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift that is both a satire on human nature and a parody of...

where once one imagines "big people and little people" the rest is easy) and too good to be Jonathan Swift's. In the 19th century, many critics who saw misanthropy
Misanthropy
Misanthropy is generalized dislike, distrust, disgust, contempt or hatred of the human species or human nature. A misanthrope, or misanthropist is someone who holds such views or feelings...

 and madness in Jonathan Swift's later work wished to reject the Tale as his. In a way, a critic's view on who wrote the Tale reflected that critic's politics. Swift was such a powerful champion of Tory, or anti-Whig, causes that fans of the Tale were eager to attribute the book to another author from nearly the day of its publication.

The work appeared anonymously in 1704. It was Swift's habit to publish anonymously throughout his career, partially as a way of protecting his career, and partially his person. As a struggling churchman, Swift needed the support of nobles to gain a living. Additionally, nobles were still responsible for Church affairs in the House of Lords, so his political effectiveness in church affairs depended upon the lords. Swift needed to be at some distance from the sometimes bawdy and scatological
Scatology
In medicine and biology, scatology or coprology is the study of feces.Scatological studies allow one to determine a wide range of biological information about a creature, including its diet , healthiness, and diseases such as tapeworms. The word derives from the Greek σκώρ In medicine and biology,...

 work that he wrote.

The Tale was immediately popular and controversial. Consequently, there were rumors of various people as the author of the work — Jonathan Swift then being not largely known except for his work in the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 for the passage of the First Fruits and Fifths bill for tithing
Tithe
A tithe is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or compulsory tax to government. Today, tithes are normally voluntary and paid in cash, cheques, or stocks, whereas historically tithes were required and paid in kind, such as agricultural products...

. Some people thought that William Temple wrote it. Francis Atterbury
Francis Atterbury
Francis Atterbury was an English man of letters, politician and bishop.-Early life:He was born at Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he became a tutor...

 said people at Oxford thought it had been written by Edmund Smith and John Philips, though he thought it was by Jonathan Swift. Some people thought it belonged to Lord Somers
John Somers, 1st Baron Somers
John Somers, 1st Baron Somers, PC, FRS was an English Whig jurist and statesman. Somers first came to national attention in the trial of the Seven Bishops where he was on the their defence counsel. He published tracts on political topics such as the succession to the crown, where he elaborated his...

.

However, Jonathan Swift had a cousin, also in the church, named Thomas Swift. Thomas and Jonathan were in correspondence during the time of the composition of the Tale, and Thomas Swift later claimed to have written the work. Jonathan responded to this allegation by saying that Thomas had no hand in anything but the smallest of passages, and he would welcome hearing Thomas 'explain' the work, if he had written it.

The controversy over authorship is aggravated by the choice of publisher. Not only did Swift use Tooke after the publication of the Tale, he had used Tooke before its publication as well, so the appearance of the work in John Nutt's shop was atypical.

Stylistically and in sentiment, the Tale is undeniably Jonathan's. Most important in this regard is the narrative pose and the creation of narrative parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

. The dramatic pretense of writing as a character is in keeping with Jonathan Swift's lifelong practice. Furthermore, Thomas Swift has left few literary remains.

Those wishing to pursue the evidence for Thomas Swift may see the summary in A. C. Guthkelch and D. Nichol Smith's authoritative edition of A Tale of a Tub (1920 and 1958), where they say, "all the evidence for Thomas Swift's participation in the Tale...[is] nothing but rumour and [Edmund] Curll's
Edmund Curll
Edmund Curll was an English bookseller and publisher. His name has become synonymous, through the attacks on him by Alexander Pope, with unscrupulous publication and publicity. Curll rose from poverty to wealth through his publishing, and he did this by approaching book printing in a mercenary...

Key." Indeed, in 1710 Swift had the fifth edition republished by Tooke, and he explained in a letter how the rumor had been started. He said that, when the publication initially took place, Swift was abroad in Ireland and "that little Parson-cousin of mine" "affected to talk suspiciously, as if he had some share in it." In other words, anonymity conspired with Thomas Swift's desire for fame to create the confusion. Afterward, only critical preference seems to account for anyone holding Thomas Swift the author.

Robert Hendrickson notes in his book British Literary Anecdotes that "Swift was always partial to his strikingly original The Tale of a Tub (1704). On reading the work again in later years, he exclaimed 'Good God! What a genius I had when I wrote that book!'"