“On Swift” by William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

Self portrait 
*oil on canvas 
*70 x 60 cm

“On Swift” by William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

  • Swift’s ability as a poet is often overlooked because of his ability to write prose
    • If he had never written “Tale of a Tub” or “Gulliver’s Travels”, he’d still be known as a poet
      • Dry humor, agreeable morality, exquisite tone of irony, touching pathos blended with satire
        • “Description of the Morning in London” & “City Shower”
      • Known for his sensibility as well as foolishness, trifles, etc. – which shouldn’t be a knock on his great works
  • “Tale of a Tub” is one of the best things written in the English language – based on thought, wit & style
    • Dr. Johnson hated Swift & refused to believe he wrote it
      • Although he couldn’t deny that Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels”, he disputed its merits calling it too easy to conceive & the rest of the story wrote itself mechanically
      • If anything, the idea is better than the execution of it
  • Re: Gulliver’s Travels – Most important is its power over people but had to do it playing with size to show how silly self-love can be
    • He gave us a new way to see human nature through experimentation of proportions & circumstances
    • Leaving nothing valuable except wisdom & virtue, showing men what they are & what they ought to be
      • His treatment of the Blefuscu fleet makes you wonder which side was right
      • The description of his nurse, Glumdalclitch, was a shock to personal vanity
        • Although seemingly denigrating, it places one’s demeanor as more important than one’s appearance
    • The book tries to tear off the mask of intellectual imposture & no one has the right to complain about it
      • Moral quacks build up human nature’s dignity, pamper pride & hypocrisy with nonsense virtues they claim that they themselves have but don’t & offer bullshit panegyrics on mankind
  • Swift dwelt on the difference between good & bad
    • Very similar to Rabelais & Voltaire in using wit for this – except not French – entertaining us, yet informing us & encouraging us to think
    • Maybe offensive in slightly rude topics & language, but also in challenging our views
    • The natives of the lands of “Gulliver’s Travels” made us laugh with their ridiculous ways but the humans made us impatient with humanity & its failings

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