In Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub (1704) and Gulliver's Travels (1726), maxims—pithy statements of general truth—convey individual confusion rather than collective wisdom. I will illuminate the experimental function of maxims in Swift's fiction by turning to his interest in the philosophy and sententiousness of Francis Bacon. Bacon pioneered a form of aphoristic writing that was designed to help empiricists access nature by avoiding psychological pitfalls. Swift, attuned to psychological pitfalls and sceptical of a person's ability to avoid them, made innovative sententiousness a feature of his two longest fictional satires, works long considered important to the novel's emergence. This essay argues that Swift's maxims create effects of inwardness in his fictions, in large part by operating as satires on empiricist methods. In response to Bacon, Swift uses maxims to figure consciousness as "knowledge broken"—failures of private thought made public to humble readers. This essay rehistoricizes the early novel by demonstrating the importance of Baconian sententiousness and epistemology to eighteenth-century fictional explorations of interiority.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1-23
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.