And yours, too!
As Jonathan Swift’s life drew to a close and dementia set in, he would crawl into bed, read his favorite book and say, “My God, I was brilliant once.”
Which book was that?
If you said Gulliver’s Travels, that’s understandable.
If you said A Modest Proposal, I wouldn’t blame you.
But nope, it was his first book, the nearly forgotten A Tale of a Tub.
How did Swift’s favorite book, one that most literary critics say was his sharpest, most biting satire, get so overlooked, dropped into the dustbin of history?
Easy. He didn’t write a commercial, easy-to-digest piece of pablum meant for everyone.
A Tale of a Tub is an attack on religion (one strike against it already) about three brothers of different faiths that proceeds in an increasingly inane academic doublespeak that makes it hard to follow (Strike two!), let alone comprehend. Throw in English politicians so obscure today you can’t read it without footnotes (Strike three!) and you’re riding the bench holding a book you can’t finish.
Gulliver’s Travels, while also a political satire that concludes the entire human race is nothing more than a bunch of (Y)ahoos, is also an epic fantasy yarn that requires no knowledge of the British Parliament to thoroughly enjoy. Oh, and it attacks academics, not clergy, so home run!
And A Modest Proposal? A book so easily accessible it’s taught to high-school students and college freshmen as the perfect example of satire, with a length so short teachers have to love it. While it’s clear to anyone that Swift’s proposal that the solution to not having enough food to feed the children is to eat the children is pure folly, it doesn’t hurt that, like the above two books, it mocks so-called scholars.
So, what do you do in this day and age when your best book is not your bestselling?
But first and foremost, take a step back like Swift and enjoy your work because you’re not alone. You are in the presence of greatness. Plenty of writers, musicians, filmmakers and the like have been there. Sometimes, all you can do is lay back and say, “I was brilliant once.”
John Briggs is the author of his own political satire A VOTE FOR JESUS that mocks how corrupt our campaigns have become. He’s also a big fan of Jonathan Swift’s.