A Tale of a Tub

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A satire in prose by Swift, written, according to his own statement, about 1696, but not published until 1704.

The author explains in a preface that it is the practice of seamen when they meet a whale to throw out an empty tub to divert it from attacking the ship. Hence the title of the satire, which is intended to divert Hobbes's Leviathan and the wits of the age from picking holes in the weak sides of religion and government. The author proceeds to tell the story of a father who leaves as a legacy to his three sons Peter, Martin, and Jack a coat apiece, with directions that on no account are the coats to be altered. Peter symbolizes the Roman Church, Martin (from Martin Luther) the Anglican, Jack (from John Calvin) the Dissenters. The sons gradually disobey the injunction. Finally Martin and Jack quarrel with the arrogant Peter, then with each other, and separate. The narrative is freely interspersed with digressions, on critics, on the prevailing dispute as to ancient and modern learning, and on madness—this last an early example of Swift's love of paradox and of his misanthropy.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Jonathan Swift (1667—1745) writer and dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

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