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    Pope, Swift and the age of reason Essay

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    The ridiculousness of this overly intellectual culture demonstrates the negative aspect of a community so absorbed by their own personal illusions that they fail to serve the advancement of their society. Further absurdities as a result of frivolous and wasteful pride in human reason can be seen in Gulliver’s visit to The Grand Academy of Lagado. Here, Swift targets the Enlightenment’s view that science and technology will eventually solve all of man’s problems.

    Gulliver witnessed ridiculous experiments in speculative science and speculative learning, none of which accomplished any beneficial result other than the employment of the scientist: a dog is killed by the very treatment employed to cure him, a project to reduce, and ultimately disregard, language threatens to abolish all abstract thought, and students are made ill by ingesting mathematical equations in an attempt to escape traditional learning. These are but a few examples Swift uses to reinforce his assertion that the search for rational solutions to all problems could be foolish.

    Gulliver, upon the completion of his tour of the Academy, recognizes the nation’s deficiency of common sense and states, “I saw nothing in this country that could invite me to a longer continuance, and began to think of returning home to England” (197). The fourth and final voyage in Gulliver’s Travels is to the land of the super-rational Houyhnhmns. This is the section of the novel where Swift delivers his extremely cynical, if not misanthropic, critique of mankind. Gulliver discovers a utopian society of horses who live their lives with perfect reason unimpeded by irrationality or excessive emotion.

    In contrast to voyage three, where there is an obvious suspicion of excess reason, Voyage four seems to glorify this equestrian society by critically comparing it to the barbaric society of Yahoos. Initially, Gulliver refuses to identify with the Yahoos, maintaining that his distinguishing feature is his ability to think rationally. This surprises the Houyhnhmns who, out of curiosity, invite Gulliver to give an account of European life. With brilliant irony Gulliver begins to tell of the follies and evils of European man, not recognizing the Yahoo qualities in his descriptions.

    Gulliver was horrified when he “could no longer deny that [he] was a real Yahoo in every limb and feature” (279). Rather than reasonably accepting his place in the chain of being, he is disgusted by his own species and chooses to identify with the Houynhmn culture, where he “enjoyed perfect health of body, and tranquility of mind” (289). With Gulliver’s expulsion from the land of the Houyhnhms, it appears Swift is defending his initial argument that man’s follies are a part of nature that cannot be simply reasoned away.

    It is only rational that the Houynhmns can exist without passion and emotion because they are horses; Gulliver, after all, is a human. The cynical twist, however, occurs when Gulliver returns to England. His refusal to reintegrate into human society suggests that the extent of mankind’s barbarism and lack of Reason renders them undeserving of any sympathy. Gulliver confesses, “so horrible was the idea I conceived of returning to live in the society and under the government of Yahoos…

    degenerating into the vices and corruptions of my own species”(297). Pope’s An Essay on Man and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels both serve as a discourse on the capabilities and limitations of human Reason. The differences however, lay in the extent in which the two authors believe this Reason benefits society. While Pope strongly maintains, “Whatever is, is Right,” Swift, as seen through the emotional demise of Gulliver, suggests what is, is terribly wrong; that the human race is barbaric and hopeless.

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