Home  »  Volume XIII: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part One The Nineteenth Century, II  »  § 10. Erewhon and Gulliver’s Travels

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIV. George Meredith, Samuel Butler, George Gissing

§ 10. Erewhon and Gulliver’s Travels

The most illuminating parallel to Erewhon is the obvious one, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Both authors adopt the ironical method according to which a commonplace person carries with him his own ingrained prepossessions when he comes upon a race with bodily and mental habits, equally deep-rooted, but long ago given a different direction. Both authors preserve an episcopal gravity while they prolong and enrich the fantasy with witty inventions and oddities of synthesis. Both are wanting in poetic endowment, but rich in the humorous, pictorial gift which has the enduring quality of poetry. Both wield a style keen, serried, precise in an unstudied way, and, at the same time, flexible, calling to mind the image of a Toledo blade. Swift, an eighteenth century politician, has the sharper eye for the hot antagonisms of sects and parties; Butler, for hypocritical mental jugglery; Swift’s Laputans enshrine the prejudice of Scriblerus against science; Butler’s hostility is for any kind of academicism. Swift, with his acuity of vision for human injustice, portrays it with the passionate self-torturing anger which flames in the later parts of Gulliver. Butler sees a perverse indifference to commonsense and, for the most part, paints it with a cool amused irony—the good form of his Ydgrunites—which has become a common trait in later fiction and essay writing.