Originally published anonymously, Jonathan Swift sent the manuscript for the satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels to his publisher under a pseudonym and handled any correspondence and corrections through friends. As such, even though close friends such as Alexander Pope knew about the publication, Swift still kept up the ruse of feigning ignorance about the book in his correspondence with them. The first edition of Gulliver’s Travels appeared on 28 October 1726. In the months afterwards, as detailed in excerpts from his letters below, the fun with his friends began.
“I am just come from answering a Letter of Mrs. Howard’s writ in such mystical terms, that I should never have found out the meaning, if a Book had not been sent me called Gulliver’s Travellers, of which you say so much in yours.”
Jonathan Swift to Henrietta Howard, countess of Suffolk, 27 November 1726, responding to the letter mentioned above, where he pretends he was dumbfounded to receive a letter written in the style of Gulliver:
“When I received your Letter I thought it the most unaccountable one I ever saw in my Life, and was not able to comprehend three words of it together. The Perverseness of your Lines astonished me, which tended downwards to the right on one Page, and upward in the two others. This I thought impossible to be done by any Person who did not squint with both Eyes; an Infirmity I never observed in you. However, one thing I was pleased with, that after you had writ me down, you repented, and writ me up. But I continued four days at a loss for your meaning, till a Bookseller sent me the Travells of one Captn Gulliver, who proved a very good Explainer, although at the same time, I thought it hard to be forced to read a Book of seven hundred Pages in order to understand a Letter of fifty lines…”
“My correspondents have informed me that your Ladyship has done me the honor to answer severall objections that ignorance, malice, and party have made to my Travells, and bin so charitable as to justifie the fidelity and veracity of the Author. This Zeal you have shown for Truth calls for my particular thanks, and at the same time encourages me to beg you would continue your goodness to me by reconcileing me to the Maids of Honour whom they say I have most grievously offended.”
“As to Captain Gulliver, I find his book is very much censured in this kingdom which abounds in excellent judges; but in England I hear it hath made a bookseller almost rich enough to be an alderman. In my judgement I should think it hath been mangled in the press, for in some parts it doth not seem of a piece, but I shall hear more when I am in England.”
Featured Image Credit: Knowledge is key by Valentine.CCO Public Domain via Unsplash.