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| Home | Reading Room Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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[The author studies to learn the language. The Houyhnhnm,
his master, assists in teaching him. The language described.
Several Houyhnhnms of quality come out of curiosity to see
the author. He gives his master a short account of his voyage.]

My principal endeavour was to learn the language, which my master
(for so I shall henceforth call him), and his children, and every
servant of his house, were desirous to teach me; for they looked
upon it as a prodigy, that a brute animal should discover such
marks of a rational creature. I pointed to every thing, and
inquired the name of it, which I wrote down in my journal-book
when I was alone, and corrected my bad accent by desiring those
of the family to pronounce it often. In this employment, a
sorrel nag, one of the under-servants, was very ready to assist me.

In speaking, they pronounced through the nose and throat, and
their language approaches nearest to the High-Dutch, or German,
of any I know in Europe; but is much more graceful and
significant. The emperor Charles V. made almost the same
observation, when he said "that if he were to speak to his horse,
it should be in High-Dutch."

The curiosity and impatience of my master were so great, that he
spent many hours of his leisure to instruct me. He was convinced
(as he afterwards told me) that I must be a YAHOO; but my
teachableness, civility, and cleanliness, astonished him; which
were qualities altogether opposite to those animals. He was most
perplexed about my clothes, reasoning sometimes with himself,
whether they were a part of my body: for I never pulled them off
till the family were asleep, and got them on before they waked in
the morning. My master was eager to learn "whence I came; how I
acquired those appearances of reason, which I discovered in all
my actions; and to know my story from my own mouth, which he
hoped he should soon do by the great proficiency I made in
learning and pronouncing their words and sentences." To help my
memory, I formed all I learned into the English alphabet, and
writ the words down, with the translations. This last, after
some time, I ventured to do in my master's presence. It cost me
much trouble to explain to him what I was doing; for the
inhabitants have not the least idea of books or literature.

In about ten weeks time, I was able to understand most of his
questions; and in three months, could give him some tolerable
answers. He was extremely curious to know "from what part of the
country I came, and how I was taught to imitate a rational
creature; because the YAHOOS (whom he saw I exactly resembled in
my head, hands, and face, that were only visible), with some
appearance of cunning, and the strongest disposition to mischief,
were observed to be the most unteachable of all brutes." I
answered, "that I came over the sea, from a far place, with many
others of my own kind, in a great hollow vessel made of the
bodies of trees: that my companions forced me to land on this
coast, and then left me to shift for myself." It was with some
difficulty, and by the help of many signs, that I brought him to
understand me. He replied, "that I must needs be mistaken, or
that I said the thing which was not;" for they have no word in
their language to express lying or falsehood. "He knew it was
impossible that there could be a country beyond the sea, or that
a parcel of brutes could move a wooden vessel whither they
pleased upon water. He was sure no HOUYHNHNM alive could make
such a vessel, nor would trust YAHOOS to manage it."

The word HOUYHNHNM, in their tongue, signifies a HORSE, and, in
its etymology, the PERFECTION OF NATURE. I told my master, "that
I was at a loss for expression, but would improve as fast as I
could; and hoped, in a short time, I should be able to tell him
wonders." He was pleased to direct his own mare, his colt, and
foal, and the servants of the family, to take all opportunities
of instructing me; and every day, for two or three hours, he was
at the same pains himself. Several horses and mares of quality
in the neighbourhood came often to our house, upon the report
spread of "a wonderful YAHOO, that could speak like a HOUYHNHNM,
and seemed, in his words and actions, to discover some
glimmerings of reason." These delighted to converse with me:
they put many questions, and received such answers as I was able
to return. By all these advantages I made so great a progress,
that, in five months from my arrival I understood whatever was
spoken, and could express myself tolerably well.

The HOUYHNHNMS, who came to visit my master out of a design of
seeing and talking with me, could hardly believe me to be a right
YAHOO, because my body had a different covering from others of my
kind. They were astonished to observe me without the usual hair
or skin, except on my head, face, and hands; but I discovered
that secret to my master upon an accident which happened about a
fortnight before.

I have already told the reader, that every night, when the family
were gone to bed, it was my custom to strip, and cover myself
with my clothes. It happened, one morning early, that my master
sent for me by the sorrel nag, who was his valet. When he came I
was fast asleep, my clothes fallen off on one side, and my shirt
above my waist. I awaked at the noise he made, and observed him
to deliver his message in some disorder; after which he went to
my master, and in a great fright gave him a very confused account
of what he had seen. This I presently discovered, for, going as
soon as I was dressed to pay my attendance upon his honour, he
asked me "the meaning of what his servant had reported, that I
was not the same thing when I slept, as I appeared to be at other
times; that his vale assured him, some part of me was white, some
yellow, at least not so white, and some brown."

I had hitherto concealed the secret of my dress, in order to
distinguish myself, as much as possible, from that cursed race of
YAHOOS; but now I found it in vain to do so any longer. Besides,
I considered that my clothes and shoes would soon wear out, which
already were in a declining condition, and must be supplied by
some contrivance from the hides of YAHOOS, or other brutes;
whereby the whole secret would be known. I therefore told my
master, "that in the country whence I came, those of my kind
always covered their bodies with the hairs of certain animals
prepared by art, as well for decency as to avoid the inclemencies
of air, both hot and cold; of which, as to my own person, I would
give him immediate conviction, if he pleased to command me: only
desiring his excuse, if I did not expose those parts that nature
taught us to conceal." He said, "my discourse was all very
strange, but especially the last part; for he could not
understand, why nature should teach us to conceal what nature had
given; that neither himself nor family were ashamed of any parts
of their bodies; but, however, I might do as I pleased."
Whereupon I first unbuttoned my coat, and pulled it off. I did
the same with my waistcoat. I drew off my shoes, stockings, and
breeches. I let my shirt down to my waist, and drew up the
bottom; fastening it like a girdle about my middle, to hide my

My master observed the whole performance with great signs of
curiosity and admiration. He took up all my clothes in his
pastern, one piece after another, and examined them diligently;
he then stroked my body very gently, and looked round me several
times; after which, he said, it was plain I must be a perfect
YAHOO; but that I differed very much from the rest of my species
in the softness, whiteness, and smoothness of my skin; my want of
hair in several parts of my body; the shape and shortness of my
claws behind and before; and my affectation of walking
continually on my two hinder feet. He desired to see no more;
and gave me leave to put on my clothes again, for I was
shuddering with cold.

I expressed my uneasiness at his giving me so often the
appellation of YAHOO, an odious animal, for which I had so utter
a hatred and contempt: I begged he would forbear applying that
word to me, and make the same order in his family and among his
friends whom he suffered to see me. I requested likewise, "that
the secret of my having a false covering to my body, might be
known to none but himself, at least as long as my present
clothing should last; for as to what the sorrel nag, his valet,
had observed, his honour might command him to conceal it."

All this my master very graciously consented to; and thus the
secret was kept till my clothes began to wear out, which I was
forced to supply by several contrivances that shall hereafter be
mentioned. In the meantime, he desired "I would go on with my
utmost diligence to learn their language, because he was more
astonished at my capacity for speech and reason, than at the
figure of my body, whether it were covered or not;" adding, "that
he waited with some impatience to hear the wonders which I
promised to tell him."

Thenceforward he doubled the pains he had been at to instruct me:
he brought me into all company, and made them treat me with
civility; "because," as he told them, privately, "this would put
me into good humour, and make me more diverting."

Every day, when I waited on him, beside the trouble he was at in
teaching, he would ask me several questions concerning myself,
which I answered as well as I could, and by these means he had
already received some general ideas, though very imperfect. It
would be tedious to relate the several steps by which I advanced
to a more regular conversation; but the first account I gave of
myself in any order and length was to this purpose:

"That I came from a very far country, as I already had attempted
to tell him, with about fifty more of my own species; that we
travelled upon the seas in a great hollow vessel made of wood,
and larger than his honour's house. I described the ship to him
in the best terms I could, and explained, by the help of my
handkerchief displayed, how it was driven forward by the wind.
That upon a quarrel among us, I was set on shore on this coast,
where I walked forward, without knowing whither, till he
delivered me from the persecution of those execrable YAHOOS." He
asked me, "who made the ship, and how it was possible that the
HOUYHNHNMS of my country would leave it to the management of
brutes?" My answer was, "that I durst proceed no further in my
relation, unless he would give me his word and honour that he
would not be offended, and then I would tell him the wonders I
had so often promised." He agreed; and I went on by assuring
him, that the ship was made by creatures like myself; who, in all
the countries I had travelled, as well as in my own, were the
only governing rational animals; and that upon my arrival hither,
I was as much astonished to see the HOUYHNHNMS act like rational
beings, as he, or his friends, could be, in finding some marks of
reason in a creature he was pleased to call a YAHOO; to which I
owned my resemblance in every part, but could not account for
their degenerate and brutal nature. I said farther, "that if
good fortune ever restored me to my native country, to relate my
travels hither, as I resolved to do, everybody would believe,
that I said the thing that was not, that I invented the story out
of my own head; and (with all possible respect to himself, his
family, and friends, and under his promise of not being offended)
our countrymen would hardly think it probable that a HOUYHNHNM
should be the presiding creature of a nation, and a YAHOO the brute."



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