- Swift’s Travels: Eighteenth-Century British Satire and Its Legacy ed. by Nicholas Hudson and Aaron Santesso
From the dedication onward, Swift’s Travels reads like a festschrift for Claude Rawson. As Pat Rogers shrewdly observes in his essay on “Swift and the poetry of exile,” Rawson’s “achievement rests first on his remarkable skills as a critic and his ability to tease out the deeper meaning of texts with more finesse than anyone else. But he is also more of a historical critic than we often suppose.” Given Rawson’s penchant for comparing eighteenth-century texts with texts from other periods, “historical” is unlikely to spring to mind, but it is a perspective that should not be ignored in any assessment of his scholarly achievement—just (re-)open the covers of his first monograph, Henry Fielding and the Augustan Ideal Under Stress.
And Rawson’s historicism is not ignored in this collection. Each of the three essays in Part I, entitled “Swift and his antecedents,” traces Swift’s satire back to writings published before he was born: More’s Utopia, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and Killing Noe Murder, respectively. “[S]ometime shortly after the publication of Paradise Lost,” according to David Rosen and Aaron Santesso, “epic died and satire took its place.” Unfortunately, in seeking to explain why this happened, they resort to sweeping generalizations. As Poems on the Affairs of State clearly demonstrates, there undoubtedly was a proliferation of satirical verse between 1660 and 1714, but when Messrs. Rosen and Santesso write about “the decline of the genre allegory at the turn of the eighteenth century,” I ponder not only the influence of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel on the period’s political verse—an influence that can scarcely be overstated—but also the extensive use political writers made of romansà clef, dream visions, and so-called “parallel history” in the early eighteenth century, let alone the output of “those consummate allegorisers, Pope and Swift” (as Pat Rogers describes them in Grub Street). Seemingly to their own surprise, however, Messrs. Rosen and Santesso discover that the “notion [End Page 243] of exploded allegory” is challenged or “complicated” by Swift. The next two essays are less problematic. Jonathan Lamb treads broken ground in rehearsing notions about the relationship between A Tale of a Tub, Hobbes, Dunton, and the plight of “modern authors,” while Ian Higgins’s discussion of Swift and polemical tradition pushes off from a satirical pamphlet published in 1657, apparently because Charles Ford mentions Killing Noe Murder by name when trying to persuade Swift that he should allow his own political pamphlets to be included in Faulkner’s Dublin edition of his Works. In the remaining two essays in Part I, Harold Love supplies contextual information for Rochester’s “Tun-bridge Wells” and “Say Heav’n-born Muse” (as well as Francis Fane’s “Iter occidentale”) before turning (tendentiously) to “Swift’s Bath satire, found in the closing lines of ‘The Progress of Marriage,”’ while Steven N. Zwicker, like many before him, considers the reasons why Swift did not have much time for Dryden or his works. He grasps that Swift’s account of Dryden’s encounter with Virgil in The Battel of the Books “intends mockery,” but there is little indication that he is aware of the importance of post-Revolution politics to understanding Swift’s relations with his celebrated distant relative, more especially the political maneuverings of the 1690s and the role Swift played in them as Temple’s amanuensis.
Although, according to the editors, Part II, “Swift in his time,” is “devoted to Swift himself,” few essays offer new information about the author or his works. Barbara M. Benedict’s survey of “the rhetoric of things in Swift’s satire,” for instance, resists the temptation to consider the episode in Gulliver’s Travels in which the professors in the School of Languages in the Academy of Lagado “adhere to the new Scheme of expressing themselves by Things“ to concentrate instead on Swift’s lists of things in...