Swift is best known, where horses are concerned, for his creation of the Houyhnhnms in Gulliver’s Fourth Voyage. But, at a time when the horse was a major feature of everyday life in most parts of the world, Swift was hardly using something remote from his and others’ experience. He was also familiar with works of equine management, including Gervase Markham and such classical texts as Xenophon. Swift had a high regard both for the animal itself and for those who knew how to treat it properly. This essay looks at Swift’s prior dealings with horses, from his retirement to Dublin following the death of the Queen in 1714.
These dealings were far from satisfactory. His time in Ireland until the creation of the Houyhnhnms had been a catalogue of promising horses becoming unpromising, mistrust of horse-dealers, and the incompetence his own grooms and servants in dealing with horses. When he began to write the Fourth Voyage, he had a long period of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement behind him, mainly with the management of horses by those who should have known better, and of increasingly impatient aspiration for a good horse. The stage was set for Houyhnhnmland.
This book explores the impacts, particularly on their writing, of the serious illnesses of Swift and Pope, alongside their respective understandings of health issues and within their period context.
Both Swift and Pope spent most of their lives suffering from serious illness, Ménière’s Disease (Swift) and Pott’s Disease (Pope). This was at a time when medical understanding of these conditions was minimal. This book examines the effects of illness on each writer’s relations with doctors, treatment, and medicine more widely, and how far and in what ways their own experiences affected their writing. The book explains the contemporary medical context and subsequent specialist knowledge of the illnesses, and places each alongside both writers’ attempts to come to terms with their suffering, not least with respect to the different forms and styles of their works. Each writer’s extensive correspondence is drawn on, as well as a range of texts.