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| Home | Reading Room Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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[The Houyhnhnm's notion of truth and falsehood. The author's
discourse disapproved by his master. The author gives a more
particular account of himself, and the accidents of his voyage.]

My master heard me with great appearances of uneasiness in his
countenance; because doubting, or not believing, are so little
known in this country, that the inhabitants cannot tell how to
behave themselves under such circumstances. And I remember, in
frequent discourses with my master concerning the nature of
manhood in other parts of the world, having occasion to talk of
lying and false representation, it was with much difficulty that
he comprehended what I meant, although he had otherwise a most
acute judgment. For he argued thus: "that the use of speech was
to make us understand one another, and to receive information of
facts; now, if any one said the thing which was not, these ends
were defeated, because I cannot properly be said to understand
him; and I am so far from receiving information, that he leaves
me worse than in ignorance; for I am led to believe a thing
black, when it is white, and short, when it is long." And these
were all the notions he had concerning that faculty of lying, so
perfectly well understood, and so universally practised, among
human creatures.

To return from this digression. When I asserted that the YAHOOS
were the only governing animals in my country, which my master
said was altogether past his conception, he desired to know,
"whether we had HOUYHNHNMS among us, and what was their
employment?" I told him, "we had great numbers; that in summer
they grazed in the fields, and in winter were kept in houses with
hay and oats, where YAHOO servants were employed to rub their
skins smooth, comb their manes, pick their feet, serve them with
food, and make their beds." "I understand you well," said my
master: "it is now very plain, from all you have spoken, that
whatever share of reason the YAHOOS pretend to, the HOUYHNHNMS
are your masters; I heartily wish our YAHOOS would be so
tractable." I begged "his honour would please to excuse me from
proceeding any further, because I was very certain that the
account he expected from me would be highly displeasing." But he
insisted in commanding me to let him know the best and the worst.

I told him "he should be obeyed." I owned "that the HOUYHNHNMS
among us, whom we called horses, were the most generous and
comely animals we had; that they excelled in strength and
swiftness; and when they belonged to persons of quality, were
employed in travelling, racing, or drawing chariots; they were
treated with much kindness and care, till they fell into
diseases, or became foundered in the feet; but then they were
sold, and used to all kind of drudgery till they died; after
which their skins were stripped, and sold for what they were
worth, and their bodies left to be devoured by dogs and birds of
prey. But the common race of horses had not so good fortune,
being kept by farmers and carriers, and other mean people, who
put them to greater labour, and fed them worse." I described, as
well as I could, our way of riding; the shape and use of a
bridle, a saddle, a spur, and a whip; of harness and wheels. I
added, "that we fastened plates of a certain hard substance,
called iron, at the bottom of their feet, to preserve their hoofs
from being broken by the stony ways, on which we often

My master, after some expressions of great indignation, wondered
"how we dared to venture upon a HOUYHNHNM'S back; for he was
sure, that the weakest servant in his house would be able to
shake off the strongest YAHOO; or by lying down and rolling on
his back, squeeze the brute to death." I answered "that our
horses were trained up, from three or four years old, to the
several uses we intended them for; that if any of them proved
intolerably vicious, they were employed for carriages; that they
were severely beaten, while they were young, for any mischievous
tricks; that the males, designed for the common use of riding or
draught, were generally castrated about two years after their
birth, to take down their spirits, and make them more tame and
gentle; that they were indeed sensible of rewards and
punishments; but his honour would please to consider, that they
had not the least tincture of reason, any more than the YAHOOS in
this country."

It put me to the pains of many circumlocutions, to give my master
a right idea of what I spoke; for their language does not abound
in variety of words, because their wants and passions are fewer
than among us. But it is impossible to express his noble
resentment at our savage treatment of the HOUYHNHNM race;
particularly after I had explained the manner and use of
castrating horses among us, to hinder them from propagating their
kind, and to render them more servile. He said, "if it were
possible there could be any country where YAHOOS alone were
endued with reason, they certainly must be the governing animal;
because reason in time will always prevail against brutal
strength. But, considering the frame of our bodies, and
especially of mine, he thought no creature of equal bulk was so
ill-contrived for employing that reason in the common offices of
life;" whereupon he desired to know whether those among whom I
lived resembled me, or the YAHOOS of his country?" I assured
him, "that I was as well shaped as most of my age; but the
younger, and the females, were much more soft and tender, and the
skins of the latter generally as white as milk." He said, "I
differed indeed from other YAHOOS, being much more cleanly, and
not altogether so deformed; but, in point of real advantage, he
thought I differed for the worse: that my nails were of no use
either to my fore or hinder feet; as to my fore feet, he could
not properly call them by that name, for he never observed me to
walk upon them; that they were too soft to bear the ground; that
I generally went with them uncovered; neither was the covering I
sometimes wore on them of the same shape, or so strong as that on
my feet behind: that I could not walk with any security, for if
either of my hinder feet slipped, I must inevitably fail." He
then began to find fault with other parts of my body: "the
flatness of my face, the prominence of my nose, mine eyes placed
directly in front, so that I could not look on either side
without turning my head: that I was not able to feed myself,
without lifting one of my fore-feet to my mouth: and therefore
nature had placed those joints to answer that necessity. He knew
not what could be the use of those several clefts and divisions
in my feet behind; that these were too soft to bear the hardness
and sharpness of stones, without a covering made from the skin of
some other brute; that my whole body wanted a fence against heat
and cold, which I was forced to put on and off every day, with
tediousness and trouble: and lastly, that he observed every
animal in this country naturally to abhor the YAHOOS, whom the
weaker avoided, and the stronger drove from them. So that,
supposing us to have the gift of reason, he could not see how it
were possible to cure that natural antipathy, which every
creature discovered against us; nor consequently how we could
tame and render them serviceable. However, he would," as he
said, "debate the matter no farther, because he was more desirous
to know my own story, the country where I was born, and the
several actions and events of my life, before I came hither."

I assured him, "how extremely desirous I was that he should be
satisfied on every point; but I doubted much, whether it would be
possible for me to explain myself on several subjects, whereof
his honour could have no conception; because I saw nothing in his
country to which I could resemble them; that, however, I would do
my best, and strive to express myself by similitudes, humbly
desiring his assistance when I wanted proper words;" which he was
pleased to promise me.

I said, "my birth was of honest parents, in an island called
England; which was remote from his country, as many days' journey
as the strongest of his honour's servants could travel in the
annual course of the sun; that I was bred a surgeon, whose trade
it is to cure wounds and hurts in the body, gotten by accident or
violence; that my country was governed by a female man, whom we
called queen; that I left it to get riches, whereby I might
maintain myself and family, when I should return; that, in my
last voyage, I was commander of the ship, and had about fifty
YAHOOS under me, many of which died at sea, and I was forced to
supply them by others picked out from several nations; that our
ship was twice in danger of being sunk, the first time by a great
storm, and the second by striking against a rock." Here my
master interposed, by asking me, "how I could persuade strangers,
out of different countries, to venture with me, after the losses
I had sustained, and the hazards I had run?" I said, "they were
fellows of desperate fortunes, forced to fly from the places of
their birth on account of their poverty or their crimes. Some
were undone by lawsuits; others spent all they had in drinking,
whoring, and gaming; others fled for treason; many for murder,
theft, poisoning, robbery, perjury, forgery, coining false money,
for committing rapes, or sodomy; for flying from their colours,
or deserting to the enemy; and most of them had broken prison;
none of these durst return to their native countries, for fear of
being hanged, or of starving in a jail; and therefore they were
under the necessity of seeking a livelihood in other places."

During this discourse, my master was pleased to interrupt me
several times. I had made use of many circumlocutions in
describing to him the nature of the several crimes for which most
of our crew had been forced to fly their country. This labour
took up several days' conversation, before he was able to
comprehend me. He was wholly at a loss to know what could be the
use or necessity of practising those vices. To clear up which, I
endeavoured to give some ideas of the desire of power and riches;
of the terrible effects of lust, intemperance, malice, and envy.
All this I was forced to define and describe by putting cases and
making suppositions. After which, like one whose imagination was
struck with something never seen or heard of before, he would
lift up his eyes with amazement and indignation. Power,
government, war, law, punishment, and a thousand other things,
had no terms wherein that language could express them, which made
the difficulty almost insuperable, to give my master any
conception of what I meant. But being of an excellent
understanding, much improved by contemplation and converse, he at
last arrived at a competent knowledge of what human nature, in
our parts of the world, is capable to perform, and desired I
would give him some particular account of that land which we call
Europe, but especially of my own country.



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