Jonathan Swift, Isaac Bickerstaff, M..B Drapier and Lemuel Drapier had much in common - not least - they were all writers. Yet perhaps a more common trait that they shared, as well as their propensity for writing, was even more distinct - they would have shared the same underpants - because in fact - they were the same person.
Jonathan Swift is better known for his satirical, fictitious works known colloquially as ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ which in keeping with the protracted titles of early 18 century literature was officially something more like “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships”.
Wow - that’s a title more substantial than the whole content of some modern day books. Yet, while most of us none literary minded bumpkins can just about recall the fact that Gulliver’s Travels involved a very large man stomping across the land of very small people - I doubt few of us could actually recall what or how the story line evolved from there? Afterall, I’ve never read Gulliver’s Travels’, but as a child I watched a TV cartoon adaptation, admittedly with wide-eyes and an enthusiasm that only comes with knowing that The Banana Splits were on immediately afterwards.
From the fundamental perspective of a child - Gulliver was a friendly giant who suffered the indignation of having his scrotum and other, less intrusive, body parts, pinned to the floor by some rather sadistic small people. It all appeared rather jolly but you have to remember this was the in 1970’s a time when the random cessation of an electricity current was the highlight of anyone's 3 day week.
Fast forward 35 years and Jonathon Swift is once again making an impression upon my insignificant thoughts. Only this time, I’m armed with a distinct advantage - an advantage known as - adulthood - and it appears that Gulliver’s Travels is not a serious travel journal that does its best to chronicle the exploits of a man with a potentially overacting thyroid - but that it’s a serious if not satirical look at life that has several main themes to dwell upon -
A (satirical) view of the state of European government and of petty differences between religions and an inquiry into whether men are inherently corrupt or whether they become corrupted. So, nothing new there then.
But my reasons for hunting Swift and his work are not for literature purposes - mine are much less entertaining. For among Swift’s many hats - he often donned a floppy-brimmed fedora marked ‘Early Grammarian’ - in other words - he was concerned with the state of the English language and the apparent lack of a recognised standard - a standard we currently take for granted - in spelling, in syntax and in grammar.
Now, usually around this point - when words like ‘grammar’ make a sudden uninvited appearance - it’s time to turn over - or be ruthless - and switch off - or less likely - stare at walls - or get up and make a cup of tea - or inject hard drugs - depending on how you react to words like ‘grammar’ - but whatever your reaction - I imagine it’s nothing worse than Swift’s…or Dryden’s… or Lowth’s or any one of those other, seemingly hundreds of, ‘Grammarians’ who did their best to beat the foreheads of early 18th century learned people with their ideas on how the English language 'should' be written for it to be considered correct. Their first ‘mistake’ was trying to fit it into a Latinate template but that really is too dry for a poetry ’zine.
Swift, in between writing novels and complaining bitterly, also wrote poetry (I imagine his frustration needed a catharsis somewhere) 'The Progress of Beauty' and 'The Progress of Poetry' are two unimaginative titles - but it reinforces my half-baked theory - that when all else fails - try writing poetry. At least that’s one thing I have in common with a distinguished writer - neither one of us have received any great accolades for our poetry. And while Swift’s immortality may be assured in the history of the English language - both literally and linguistically - it was, or at least I would argue, his sense of immortality that fuelled his contribution to standardizing the language (vanity not being the least of his qualities). Swift, for all his claim to fame - will always be personified in my mind's eye as ‘that giant man thingy - who were on’t tele before Fleegal, Drooper, Bingo and Snorky’.
Rozhan Kohbah - size of a wobbly penis...
Tral la laaaah…?