Tuesday 5 April 2016

Voyages de Gulliver dans des contrées lointaines (1856)

In 1726 at the Middle Temple Gate in Fleet Street, the publisher Benjamin Motte published a volume of travel memoirs. The author was unknown, but the title suggested an autobiography; Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships. Motte guessed that the book would become popular so he arranged to have it printed by five printing houses. He wasn't disappointed. It was immediately popular and has never been out of print since.

The real author of the volume was the Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745).  Although Swift was a satrist who responded to what he saw as ludicrous in the society he saw around him, in Lemuel Gulliver he created a hero who transcended the local issues of 18th century London. 

In section III of Gulliver's Travels our hero Lemuel Gulliver visits the flying island of Laputa and then visits the Grand Academy of Lagado. This academy was a thinly veiled parody of the Royal Society of London. In the academy a number of ridiculous projects are being carried out. For example, a project to extract Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers

Whilst in the Academy, Gulliver meets with a Professor of speculative learning, who is engaged in a number of literary projects. In one of these projects the Professor has a team of students turning cranks on a complicated mechanical frame that generates random strings of words. When the students find `three or four words together that might make part of a sentence', they read them out and they are recorded by a team of scribes. The small phrases created by this mechanism are being collected into a Folio that the Professor believes will, `give the world a compleat Body of all Arts and Sciences'. 

Below is the writing machine of Lagado, illustrated by J.J. Grandville (1803-1847) for a French translation of Gullivers Travels from 1856 (HERE).