Travels with Horses: Swift, “Bolingbroke” and “Stay-behind’s mare”

In: Reading Swift
Author:
Allan Ingram University of Northumbria at Newcastle

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Abstract

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.

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Reading Swift

Papers from The Seventh Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift

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