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Swift and the Quacks

Hugh Ormsby-Lennon

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Traveling "medicine shows," both ancient and modern, galvanized Jonathan Swift's imagination. Dubbing such multifaceted vagabond entertainments his "Stage-Itinerant" or "Mountebank's Stage," Swift mimicked their argot, puffery, and slapstick in A Tale of a Tub (1704). Hugh Ormsby-Lennon reveals how the stage-itinerant not only furnished the Tale with its irresistible model but still parades that missing link, long sought, which conjoins the dual objects of Swift's ire: "gross Corruptions in [both] Religion and Learning."

From the early modern stage-itinerant, the quack doctor delivered a loquacious harangue, stuffed with magico-mysticism and pseudo-science, with high-astounding promises and boastful narcissism. To help him peddle his nostrums, elixirs, and panaceas, he enlisted a tatterdemalion troupe: funambulists, puppeteers, snake-handlers, toad-eaters, sword-swallowers, spoon-benders, prestidigitators, a Merry Andrew. From their stages, charlatans reviled each other and hawked their own books, almanacs, and other ephemera, providing Grub Street with its hottest titles. Hacks practiced, quite literally, as quacks. Mountebank and Merry Andrew swapped costumes, whiskers, patter, foreign accents. Swift apes them all in the
Tale.


Swift mobilizes the stage-itinerant in order to crush "
gross Corruptions [in] Learning. " Documenting how early modern scholars vilified one another as mountebanks-by peppering their learned culture with invective filched from market-place harangues-Dr. Ormsby-Lennon revisits both Hans Sloane's dark archive of quacks' broadsides and J. B. Mencken's international best-seller, De charlataneria eruditorum . . .de circumforanea literatorum vanitate (1715). To such Bakhtinian cant, Swift had early attuned his ear when attending the Tripos entertainments at Trinity College, Dublin, wherein fellow-students guyed dons as snake-oil salesmen. Eventually, Swift preached from an oaken pulpit of his own decanal design, manhandled around St. Patrick's Cath
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware
Pages: 412Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-012-1 • Hardback • June 2011 • $95.00 • (£59.95)
978-1-61149-013-8 • eBook • January 2011 • $94.99 • (£59.95)
Hugh Ormsby-Lennon is professor of eighteenth-century studies at Villanova University.
Chapter 1 Introduction:Si Vulgus Vult Decipi, Decipiatur
Chapter 2 Chapter 1:Classis? Stage-Itinerant
Chapter 3 Chapter 2: From Gabble and Harangue to Quack's Bill
Chapter 4 Chapter 3: Universal Improvement of Mankind
Chapter 5 Chapter 4: Ejaculating the Soul
Chapter 6 Chapter 5: Aping the Medicine Show: Mencken, Salmon, Yworth
Chapter 7 Chapter 6: Doctor and Presto
Chapter 8 Chapter 7:Dumfounding
Chapter 9 Chapter 8: Apollonius of Tyana
Chapter 10 Chapter 9: Beginnings and Endings,Terrae Filius on Grub Street
Ormsby-Lennon's thesis is both provocatively original and as old as Jonathan Swift's Tale of a Tub itself: he argues that Swift's greatest satire is irreligious and that the nature of Swift's irreligion in the Tale is "willful illogicality," particularly "the kaleidoscopic way which Swift rotates the variegated stuff that sustains that illogicality." Ormsby-Lennon (Villanova Univ.) carries this thesis into many dimly lit corners of the archive, centrally and most importantly the late Restoration and more generally the history of satire and learning. This array of contexts historicizes the Tale as never before. Indeed, this book's chief strength is its careful, sustained exhumation of so much relevant material. The author has unearthed enough unfamiliar sources for Swift's satire as to require a lexicon for ready comprehension--terms like terrae filius and circumforaneity make regular appearances, for example. The "mountebank's stage," however, with its connotations of itinerancy, volubility, and fraudulence, becomes the chief metaphor for Swift's method throughout the Tale. Even if any number of Ormsby-Lennon's claims come under revision, qualification, or correction, the book's sheer contextualizing detail makes it an invaluable, sustaining resource for future Swift scholarship. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
CHOICE


Hey Presto! Swift and the Quacks is a work of vast erudition and sharp insight, and provides one of the most interesting recent developments in Swift studies.

Studies In English Literature


• Winner, CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title (2012)
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