“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift (1726) – Part 4: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms (Ch. 9-12)
- Gulliver was there during the council meetings which his master attended & reported to him that they debated the extermination of Yahoos
- The Case for Extermination: They are filthy, noisy, deformed, lazy unteachable, mischievous & malicious. They get into all kinds of trouble if not watched, kill farm animals & ruin crops. They weren’t aboriginal to the land & either came out of the mud or the sea. They have far more kids than they can take care of. The Houyhnhnms have to hunt the old ones & keep the young in a kennel to take them to use for work. Donkeys were better work animals than Yahoos
- The master said he had a Yahoo (Gulliver) at home who wore artificial skins from other animals. He had his own language & learn theirs. He had the same body as the Yahoos, but was more civil & rational but still inferior to Houyhnhnms. They castrated Houyhnhnms when they were young to make them tamer. This could be done instead of exterminating them.
- Houyhnhnms have no writing system, so all knowledge is oral but because everyone is so rational & virtuous, knowledge is easily passed on. They have a good knowledge of astronomy & an advanced calendar. Their poetry is superior to ours. The buildings are rough but functional & sturdy. They use the space between the hoof & the pastern like we use our hands & have incredible dexterity with it. They use flints to grind other stones into instruments they use to cut hay & oats
- The Yahoos take the reaping on carriages & servants tread on them to get out the grain & let it bake in the sun
- If they don’t get injured, they only die of old age. Friends & relations don’t grieve. They don’t have dying regrets. Death is referred to as “retiring to one’s first mother.” They live to be 70-75 years. A few weeks before death, they feel weak but not painful. They spend their last weeks visiting friends, being carted around by Yahoos. Then they say goodbye & find a quiet, distant place to die
- There is no natural word for bad or evil, so they just the word “Yahoo”, as in Yahoo Weather, Yahoo construction, a really Yahoo mistake
- Gulliver had his shelter all set up with a clay floor, a make-shift mattress, 2 chairs & other conveniences.
- Once his clothes wore out, he made new ones of rabbit fur & resoled his shoes with wood & Yahoo skin. He had to make do with what he could. But he was in excellent health & in good spirits. There was none of the danger & fear he had with other humans
- His master would call other Houyhnhnms around & Gulliver would listen to & even participate in their discussions. They were calm & decent without ceremony. Lulls in the conversation were normal, then eventually, they’d switch topics, including poetry, philosophy, how horrible Yahoos were, & even about Gulliver & what his world was like
- Everything Gulliver had learned came from his master & his friends. In them was pure wisdom & virtue. His admiration for them grew as time went on. He felt grateful for the chance to listen.
- When he thought of his friends, family & fellow humans, he thought that although they were smarter & more civilized than the Yahoos, they don’t actually use their gifts for any good. He grew to hate his own reflection in the water because he was a Yahoo. He began to imitate the gait of a horse & never felt any shame in that
- Once he started feeling comfortable, his master came to him & told him what had been said at the council meeting. They were offended that he kept a Yahoo, spoke with it & even became friends with it. He should either treat it like all the other Yahoos or send it back to where he came from because he might infect the other Yahoos.
- His neighbors repeated this daily & the master just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Because Gulliver had developed such a hatred for the Yahoos, the master thought the only solution is that Gulliver build a boat & try to go back home. Gulliver wasn’t going to be able to talk his way out of the council’s decision. He was more pissed off that he would have to spend the rest of his days living among the Yahoos. Maybe if he made it back, he could spread the virtues of the Houyhnhnms to his people
- The master allowed him 2 months to build a vessel to leave on & ordered his servant to help. Gulliver went to the shore where the mutineers left him & used his telescope to view possible routes. He saw an island about 15 miles away. The Houyhnhnms had no concept of other lands & though this was just a cloud on the water
- He & the servant cut down several trees & built a canoe covered in Yahoo skins & put together enough provisions to sail with.
- Once he was ready, he said goodbye & sailed off
- He sailed off, planning to find an uninhabited island where he could spend the rest of his life away from Yahoos
- He remembered that his old crew had no idea where they were but he figured out that he was 10° south of the Cape of Good Hope (which was 45° S). He thought that he he sailed east, he’d end up in New Holland (Australia). He sailed all day & all night, & landed in another place. He ate raw shellfish because a fire might attract attention to Yahoos
- He ran into a native tribe who chased him back on his boat. One of them shot him with a poison arrow. He had to suck the wound in his knee.
- He began to despair that anywhere he went, he was likely to run into Yahoos. He found a quiet place to land & hide himself from view
- A ship found him & the sailors figured he was European by his clothes & his complexion. They asked him who he was in Portuguese & he answered:
- Gulliver: I’m a Yahoo banished from the Houyhnhnms. Please leave me alone.
- They heard the words but they had no meaning. They finally got him to reveal that he was English. He talked like a horse, which was different. They said they would take him back, so long as he didn’t run away. He refused, so they tied him up & took him to the ship.
- The Captain, Don Pedro, was very nice & asked about Gulliver’s travels but he remained sullen & silent because of his hatred for Yahoos. They chained him up in a cabin because he was determined to leave
- Gulliver told him of the mutiny & his 5 years with the Houyhnhnms. The Captain thought he was either lying or crazy. But Gulliver had forgotten all about lying & wouldn’t dream of doing so. Don Pedro tried to catch him out in a lie but Gulliver was so consistent that the Captain began to believe the story. He told Gulliver to stay on the boat or ride the whole way back to Lisbon in chains. He agreed under protest
- Don Pedro also told him that he needs to start wearing real clothes. After a while he got used to wearing shirts & the like
- Once they arrived in Lisbon, the Captain took him to his house. It took him a week to get Gulliver out in public. Gulliver begged him not to tell anyone about the Houyhnhnms or he’d get locked up. He had gotten used to the Captain’s company because he had displayed kindness & civility.
- Don Pedro suggested that he go home to his family. There was an English ship returning & within 2 weeks, he was home
- His family had given him up for dead & was very happy to have him back. But he was so filled with hatred for them that for the first year, he couldn’t even be in the same room as his wife & children. He only thought of how wonderful the Houyhnhnms were & how horrible it was that he had actually contributed to the propagation of the Yahoos in his family.
- He bought 2 horses & spent all of his time talking with him
- Gulliver wrote out his 16 years of travel. He didn’t invent a word of it because he wanted to tell the truth, not to entertain. A traveler’s accounts should make you wiser & improve your mind through good & bad examples. He wished that all travelers would stick to the truth
- Travel writers often bog the reader down in pointless details when it’s the virtues that count the most, as the Houyhnhnms have shown
- He’s not sure if the English could conquer the lands that he visited like Cortez did in America. The Lilliputians aren’t worth the bother. The Brobdingnagians would be too dangerous to try anything on. How would you begin to attack a floating island? & while the Houyhnhnms aren’t prepared for war, Gulliver would never advise invading them. Their wisdom & virtue would overcome any attack. He wishes that they would just civilize us. We’d get the benefit of their virtues
- What colonizing forces, i.e. pirates, used to do is spot land, go ashore to rob & plunder, take in the locals’ kindness, give the place a new name, claim it for the king, bring some natives back & ask for a pardon.
- Now to establish a modern colony, you proclaim divine right, destroy the local population & give yourself all license to inflict the worst sorts of horrors on the natives, convert & civilizes the idolatrous & barbarous people
- The British could be an example to the world for wisdom, care & justice, as well as to spread learning & Christianity. They succeed by stocking the colonies with their own people, distributing justice & civil administration in colonies, focusing on the happiness of the people & the glory of the king.
- Gulliver never had the idea of claiming the lands he visited. He couldn’t even back the claim up if he wanted to. He only suggests that we take the virtues of the Houyhnhnms & treat people the way his master treated him.
- Eventually Gulliver could eat with his wife & even have a dinner discussion. He still finds Yahoos to be smelly. Every once in a while, he can sit with a Yahoo & have a chat. It’d be easier if they weren’t so crazy & vicious. He deals with them as needed because he is a doctor & has patients to tend to.