Amidst the ribaldry of the “off-year” election season now upon us, I was divinely inspired to read Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. The book was written in 1742 and is a classic in English literature.
In the selection below, Gulliver has found himself in the country of Laputa, whose governing population consists mainly of a highly educated elite. Gulliver is much taken by the politics of the Laputans, specifically their methods and means of investigating government conspiracies and insurrections (a la our Jan 6 and Mar-A-Lago revues) and describes them accordingly:
“Another professor showed me a large paper of instructions for discovering plots and conspiracies against the government. He advised great statesmen to examine into the diet of all suspected persons; their times of eating; upon which side they lay in bed; with which hand they wipe their posteriors; take a strict view of their excrements, and, from the colour, the odour, the taste, the consistence, the crudeness or maturity of digestion, form a judgment of their thoughts and designs; because men are never so serious, thoughtful, and intent, as when they are at stool, which he found by frequent experiment; for, in such conjunctures, when he used, merely as a trial, to consider which was the best way of murdering the king, his ordure would have a tincture of green; but quite different, when he thought only of raising an insurrection, or burning the metropolis.
“It is first agreed and settled among them, what suspected persons shall be accused of a plot; then, effectual care is taken to secure all their letters and papers, and put the owners in chains. These papers are delivered to a set of artists, very dexterous in finding out the mysterious meanings of words, syllables, and letters: for instance, they can discover a close stool, to signify a privy council; a flock of geese, a senate; a lame dog, an invader; the plague, a standing army; a buzzard, a prime minister; the gout, a high priest; a gibbet, a secretary of state; a chamber pot, a committee of grandees; a sieve, a court lady; a broom, a revolution; a mouse-trap, an employment; a bottomless pit, a treasury; a sink, a court; a cap and bells, a favourite; a broken reed, a court of justice; an empty tun, a general; a running sore, the administration.
“When this method fails, they have two others more effectual, which the learned among them call acrostics and anagrams. First, they can decipher all initial letters into political meanings. Thus N, shall signify a plot; B, a regiment of horse; L, a fleet at sea; or, secondly, by transposing the letters of the alphabet in any suspected paper, they can lay open the deepest designs of a discontented party. So, for example, if I should say, in a letter to a friend, ‘Our brother Tom has just got the piles,’ a skilful decipherer would discover, that the same letters which compose that sentence, may be analysed into the following words, ‘Resist –, a plot is brought home—The tour.’ And this is the anagrammatic method.”
Some things never change!
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