Gulliver’s Travels: The Influence of Editors and Publication

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift was first published in London in 1726. In over two centuries, hundreds of editions of this story have been published from full books to children’s stories. There have been over a dozen adaptations of Gulliver’s Travels for the screen as TV shows and films. This article concentrates on the publishing history of Gulliver’s Travels across two editions, the first in 1726 and the second in 1735, to show the conflicts between Jonathan Swift and his first publisher, Benjamin Motte. Within the span of a decade, there are large differences between the two editions, even when primarily looking at the use of illustrations.


Figure 1, Courtesy of Eighteenth Century Collections

Gulliver’s Travels was first published in London in two volumes, priced at 2s. 6d. in 1726 by Benjamin Motte. The set up of the illustration as a portrait of Gulliver with a latin inscription gives an air of authenticity to Gulliver as a figure of authority as well as that he was a real person who would have his image drawn. Gulliver middle-aged or older, which gives him a sense that he has gained wisdom over the years. Gulliver is titled as a captain to give him authority, especially concerning travel over seas, as he has control over a ship. The Latin inscription “Compositum jus, fasque animi, sanctosque recessus Mentis, & incoctum generoso pectus honesto” means “The combination of the right and unjust, right mind, saints recesses of the soul, and the breast imbued with nobleness.” This inscription suggests that Gulliver embodies these righteous and saintly traits. If Gulliver is the honorable man he is portrayed to be, his account should be taken as true.


Figure 2Courtesy of Eighteenth Century Collections

The title page does not feature Jonathan Swift’s name. Although the title does not say that the novel is written by Gulliver, by framing the title as Gulliver’s Travels the reader is lead to believe that since these travels are Gulliver’s experience they may be written by him as well. Publishing Gulliver’s Travels anonymously lends credence to the story and makes it appear authentic. The formatting of the title places great emphasis on “travels” and “world,” which makes the text appear as a documentary of Gulliver’s exploration. The subtitle serves to make the text appear scientific with the use of the words “method,” “observations,” and “explanatory notes” as scientists use the scientific method to prove a hypothesis by making observations and then explaining their results. Stating this text is “for public Benefit,” suggests that the journey and this account are done by Gulliver for the sake of increasing scientific knowledge and improving public welfare. That Gulliver was once a doctor gives him further credentials as an educated man as well as to show that he was in a profession of caring for people to support the idea of the text being for the public good.


Figure 3Courtesy of Eighteenth Century Collections

The title (Figure 2) details that the top half of the illustration is a scene in Lilliput and the bottom half is Flimnap. The subjects of the illustration are people, nothing concerning fantasy. England had colonies in other nations and so the London public would have been aware that there were other people around the world. In showing a drawing of these other people, the text uses the existing colonization to show that it is plausible for Gulliver to be discovering new lands and people. This illustration adds to the tone of the book as a recording of scientific discovery because it is a drawing of Gulliver’s observations of the people in these remote nations. Since there is not a large amount of illustrations, the text does not have the tone of a children’s story where a primary source of the entertainment is derived from the pictures.


Figure 4Courtesy of Eighteenth Century Collections

This first edition includes a poem by Mrs. Gulliver about her husband’s journey. The image banner at the top depicts two men with dogs traveling to a new city. Drawing this journey to distant lands as a hunting scene makes the text seem like an adventure. The man holding the dogs could be Gulliver because he is holding out a hand to the lounging man in an effort to stimulate him, the reader, to pursue reading Gulliver’s story. The title of the poem claims that this poem was found in an apartment, which suggests that this poem was not meant to be published and is therefore a raw, unblemished account. That the diary was open to this page reassures the reader that they should not feel embarrassed about reading this poem that was not intended for publication because the author did not attempt to hide it. Since the poem is not written by Gulliver, it provides a sense of authority to Gulliver’s story because it is evidence that someone else believes in his story. The poem being written by Gulliver’s wife, someone closely related to him, gives the text a personal feel, which makes the reader feel like they are privileged to have such a close and personal encounter with Gulliver’s life. Showing that Gulliver has a family, makes him into a person with human emotions and desires. While Gulliver is fleshed out into a person, pointing out that he is human also hints that he is fallible and, as his name alludes, gullible. This personal connection lends authority to Gulliver as there is someone other than himself who believes in his story. The poem is also a brief introduction to the novel because it mentions “Lilliput” and “Brobdingnag,” which are some of the places Gulliver visits.


Figure 5Courtesy of Eighteenth Century Collections

Like the opening title of the book, the title of this key emphasizes “travels,” which reiterates the text as a documentation of exploration. The title of this key emphasizes the words “observations” and “explanatory notes” to hone in on the scientific side introduced in the opening title page. The naming of this section as a “key” suggests that the secrets Gulliver discovered during his travels can be unlocked. This key also furthers the scientific tone by making the text seem as though it is so scientific, a key that explains the terms and content of the text is necessary for the layman to understand it. A map will have a key to explain the symbols on the map. As the text is about traveling, a map analogy is appropriate whereby the text itself is a map. Since Gulliver’s Travels is a satire, this idea that the reader needs additional help in order to understand the story and Swift’s intentions is a wink that the reader is so lazy or incapable as to need the contents of the story spelled out. Describing the key as a translation from Italian, allows for any mistakes made in the key to be excused away as poor translation instead of a matter of content. That the key was written by Corolini, someone other than Gulliver, shows that the text has been peer reviewed, and so is suitable for publication and should be taken as a legitimate scientific endeavor. There are five maps in total, two in the first volume and three in the second volume. The maps are documentation of the fictious lands in order to make them seem real.


Figure 6Courtesy of Eighteenth Century Collections

In 1735, George Faulkner published four volumes of an entire collection of Jonathan Swift’s works with Gulliver’s Travels taking up the third volume. This edition is the first time Jonathan Swift’s name appears on Gulliver’s Travels. Like in the first edition, there is a portrait of Gulliver, but it is a new one. Gulliver appears younger, like he is in his prime, than in the first edition portrait, which suggests Swift wanted Gulliver to look capable of going on vigorous journeys. The Latin inscription “Splendide Mendax Hor” means “nobly untruthful.” The new inscription, instead of supporting Gulliver’s righteous, blatantly discredits the idea that the text is true; it does this softly with the use of “nobly,” as though Gulliver has faithfully been untruthful in order to get at the truth. This inscription signals that while the details of the story itself are not true, the themes of the story are.


At the end of the third volume of the second edition, there is this letter written from Gulliver to his cousin Sympson. Swift, written through Gulliver, disowns the changes that were made to his manuscript in the first edition. The second edition does not have the Lilliput and Filmnap illustration (Figure 3), Mrs. Gulliver’s poem (Figure 4), or a key (Figure 5), which suggests that these were some of the additions made to the book by Motte that Swift did not approve of. Following this letter, there is another new addition, a letter from Mrs. Gulliver to Gulliver, who was, at the time the letter was written, staying with his cousin Sympson. Instead of the rosy and loving words that were expressed in Mrs. Gulliver’s poem in the first edition, this letter is a scathing rebuke of Gulliver’s inability to have any human contact with his wife and his children. This letter returns a personal touch to the book, but does so in a way that critiques Gulliver’s ability to transition from life abroad to life at home. This critique shows Gulliver is a human susceptible to flaws, and so his narrative can also have flaws. Regardless of the truthfulness of Gulliver’s tale, he has been changed by his experience, and so the purpose of Gulliver’s Travels is not to recount a factual story, but to cause a change of perspective in the reader.