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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Houyhnhnms
By Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
 
        
From ‘Gulliver’s Travels’
  
  [The author having been set ashore by a mutinous crew in an unknown land, falls in with a nondescript animal called the Yahoo, is at length taken possession of by the Houyhnhnms (horses) and conducted to their home. The horses mistake him for another sort of Yahoo, and attempt to civilize him.]

MY principal endeavor 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 everything 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.  1
  In speaking they pronounce 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.”  2
  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.  3
  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.  4
  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 neighborhood 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.  5
  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.  6
  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 awakened 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 Honor, 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 valet assured him some part of me was white, some yellow,—at least not so white,—and some brown.”  7
  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 commend 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 part 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 nakedness.  8
  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.  9
  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 Honor might command him to conceal it.”  10
  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 mean time 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.”  11
  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 humor, and make me more diverting.”  12
  Every day, when I waited on him, besides 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:—  13
  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 traveled upon the seas in a great hollow vessel made of wood, and larger than his Honor’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 honor 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 traveled, 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 further 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.”  14
  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 practiced among human creatures.  15
  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 Honor “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 animal we had: that they excelled in strength and swiftness, and when they belonged to persons of quality, were employed in traveling, 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 kinds 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 labor 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 traveled.  16
  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 Honor would please to consider that they had not the least tincture of reason, any more than the Yahoos in this country.”  17
  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 fall.” 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 further; because he was more desirous to know my story, the country where I was born, and the several actions and events of my life before I came hither.”  18
 
 
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