The Enduring Wisdom in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man

The Enduring Wisdom in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man

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The Enduring Wisdom in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man


If learned men of a past era came to this present age of technological advance, modern man might be surprised at the observations these humans of yesterday would make. Over three centuries ago, two such men -- Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope -- made observations concerning their own time which have interesting insights to today's world. One thing Jonathan Swift might choose to expound upon is the institution of political democracy. In Gulliver's Travels, he comments, "That all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end: and which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man's conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine." So although he believes that every man has the right to choose his own "end" -- religion -- he also accepts the authority of the "chief magistrate" -- the king -- to determine a state-wide religion. This idea is hardly acceptable to democracy advocates today. Alexander Pope, in his "An Essay on Man," propounds the "Great Chain of Being" theory of existence and order:

Vast Chain of Being! which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
(EM 1102)

Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heaven bestows on thee.
(EM 1103)

In this "Great Chain of Being", every creature and thing occupies a place -- it seems reasonable to assume that since there exists more than one "link" in the human spectrum, that different humans occupy different social positions. Kings, for exa...


... middle of paper ...


...e the religion he practices in his own home.

Pope and Swift might surprise modern society with their views. They would be cautious about accepting or rejecting anything new -- both men demonstrated careful logic in their ideas, and not just fervent belief. Some modern beliefs might require more time before they would pass judgment: science-fiction, for example. And some they might not agree with but would be willing to tolerate: various religions and political systems. Their ideas about other "technologies", such as space exploration, might make modern society re-evaluate its reasons for exploring the vast unknown.

Works Cited

Pope, Alexander. ?Essay on Man.? Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces 6th ed. Ed. Maynard Mack et.al. New York: Norton, 1992.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Ed. Louis A. Landa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

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