So this horse walks into a bar & the bartender says, “Why the long face?”

“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift (1726) – Part 4: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms (Ch. 1-4)

  • Gulliver stayed at home for 5 months before leaving his pregnant wife to be a captain of a 350 ton ship.
    • They left Portsmouth for the Canary Islands, where he hired a bunch of hands,  who later ended up being Buccaneers. They sailed to the South Sea to trade in India. His original men became corrupted by the new men & they mutinied. The men intended to sell off the cargo & start pirating Spanish ships. He was tied up & eventually dropped off at the nearest island.
  • Gulliver went looking for natives. There were oat fields, cows & horses. He saw some other creatures with hairy heads, ridges down their backs, goatees & no tails. They could use their claws to climb trees like squirrels.
    • He approached one, took out his sword & struck it with the broad side. Its cry attracted others’ attention. Some even climbed up the tree & took a shit on him. He ran off, unharmed, but covered in shit
    • He saw a horse draw near & walk around him, examining him. It realized that Gulliver wasn’t going to do it any harm & neighed at him as if to speak to him
    • Another horse showed up. The 2 neighed back & forth to each other about the situation. All the while, they watched his behavior.
    • He felt they must have some sort of reason & are probably the smartest of the land. He laughed & started off to look for a village but the horses neighed at him, as if to tell him something. They approached. One rubbed Gulliver’s hat with its hoof, fixing up the rest of his clothes, admiring the softness of his skin, causing him to flinch. They stared at the clothes as if it trying to solve a puzzle.
    • Gulliver thought they were magicians who’d turned into horses.
    • He spoke to them, explaining his situation, asking for a ride to where he could get help. He offered a gift of a knife & a bracelet which they ignored
      • They neighed back – it had to be some language
    • Then he heard the word “Yahoo” distinctly. He repeated it back to them & it shocked them. They said it again, twice, as if to correct his pronunciation. Then, one said “Houyhnhnm”. He tried that a few times
      • The grey horse motioned to Gulliver to with with him a while & then they rested.

Chapter 2

  • They walked 3 miles to a timber building. Inside was straw on the floor & a manger. There were 3 nags, 2 mares & in came the grey to introduce everyone
    • They walked through the building with other horses in the other rooms. Gulliver got out his gifts for the horses: 2 knives, 3 bracelets, a mirror & a beaded necklace. The horses neighed at him several times
    • Gulliver thought these horses must belong to someone very important, especially since they were talking horses. Either that, or it was some sort of dream or magic.
      • Among the horses, the word “Yahoo” was said many times. One beckoned him with “Hhuun, hhuun” & they went into another building.
      • He saw 3 of the creatures he had seen in the woods earlier. The master had another horse untie one & put it next to Gulliver, saying “Yahoo”. He realized that these creatures were savage humans
      • He saw the horses had trouble reconciling the differences between them
      • The sorrel handed him a root. He sniffed it & gave it back. They showed him oats & hay. Gulliver made it clear to them that he didn’t consider them to be food. They gave him a piece of donkey flesh but it repulsed it, so they gave it to the Yahoo, who devoured it
      • Gulliver said he’d have to find real people in order to find real food, otherwise he was going to starve. He didn’t like Yahoos & didn’t see them as real people. The horses returned the Yahoos to their kennel.
      • They mimicked eating with hands as if to ask what he wanted to eat but he didn’t know how to answer. He saw cows out in the fields, pointed to them & made a milking gesture. They led him into a room & gave him some milk
  • Later, a sledge arrived with a horse on top of it being pulled by 4 Yahoos. This horse was visiting the master. The mare & colt of the house stayed quiet while the grey & his friend ate next to Gulliver pleasantly. There was lots of neighing & mentions of “Yahoo”
    • They saw his gloves & became curious. He took them off & this caused more chatter from the horses
    • He spoke the few words that he’d learned: oats, milk, fire, water
    • The master was concerned that Gulliver had had nothing to eat. Gulliver thought he might be able to make bread out of the oats. He heated the oats, ground them, poured water on them, made a dough & cooked them over the fire. This was to be most of his diet, along with milk & butter.
      • He slept outside of the master’s house on straw

Chapter 3

  • His first goal was to learn the language. He asked the names for everything around, wrote them down & practiced. The horses were happy to help
    • They thought he was just a very smart Yahoo due to his ability to learn, be civil & clean. They were confused by his clothes, wondering if they were a part of his body. Soon, he’d be able to tell them how he got there but until then he had to continue his language lessons
      • Within 10 weeks, he could have a conversation & then the questions came. He explained that he came over the sea on a ship (he had to explain ships) & how he was forced to come to the island.
      • The horse said he must be mistaken, that he said “the thing which was not”. The idea of another country seemed impossible, as was the idea of a brute putting a ship on the water
  • He learned the term “Houyhnhnm” meant horse, or “the perfection of nature”. The family & servants helped to teach him. News spread about the talking, intelligent Yahoo & within 5 months, he could understand everything spoken & could express himself
    • The Houyhnhnms couldn’t believe it was true. They eventually found out he had little body hair, except on his head. Gulliver had to explain what his clothes were for – decency, protection from the elements & to hide parts of nature
      • They didn’t understand hiding natural parts. They considered him to be the perfect Yahoo – smooth, hairless & walking on 2 legs.
    • Gulliver asked not to be called a Yahoo & the master told his family not to refer to him as such. They also kept his clothes a secret but eventually they’d wear out & another solution would have to be found.
  • When the master brought others around, he made them treat him with civility. He explained his arrival to their land. This required explaining shipbuilding & sailing
    • The Houyhnhnms couldn’t believe he & his fellow men could build ships. He told them that he wasn’t lying & people at home wouldn’t believe him that Houyhnhnms ruled over Yahoos

Chapter 4

  • The exchange was awkward because it clashed with how the Houyhnhnms saw the world. Doubting & not believing were rare, so it messed with their minds. Lying & misrepresenting were common at home. But the master said speech was for sharing false information on purpose made the recipient worse off than ignorant
  • Gulliver explained, at home Yahoos were the head animals & took care of the Houyhnhnms (horses), fed & groomed them. It sounded like Houyhnhnms were masters but Gulliver explained that while people loved horses, they used them for work & travel. But they get old, get sold or develop diseases. The skins were used & meat given to dogs. People put bridles, saddles & iron shoes on them & use whips & spurs
    • The master asked how people dared to climb on their backs
      • Gulliver said horses were trained from a young age through punishment & reward to be tamed. They weren’t any smarter than Yahoos were in the land of the Houyhnhnms.
    • Gulliver started to understand how difficult it was to explain castration & the savage treatment of horses. The master understood the reasoning beings will always overcome brute strength
    • Gulliver also explained that people didn’t look as bad as Yahoos. They were cleaner & didn’t use “claws”. His feet were far too soft for the ground & he needed clothes against the heat & cold.
    • The master said every animal in his land abhors the Yahoos & Houyhnhnms will not like Gulliver naturally, no matter how smart he was because of his resemblance to the Yahoos
    • Gulliver continued to explain his story but it required more explanations the master had no concept of. He explained England & that its ruler was a female. He explained his job, Doctor, a healer of wounds. He told them that he left home to make himself rich. He had to convince others to go with him because they were poor or had committed crimes (treason, murder, theft, robbery, perjury, forgery, counterfeit, rape, sodomy, desertion, etc.) & they weren’t welcome at home
      • Gulliver had to explain what each of these crimes was & why someone would do them. He had to explain the desire for money & power, & then the effects of lust, intemperance, malice & envy
      • None of these terms existed with the Houyhnhnms because they didn’t do them or even have an inclination toward them. Gulliver had to explain human nature to them

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