"And whereas the mind of man, when he gives the spur and bridle to his thoughts, does never stop, but naturally sallies out into both extremes of high and low, of good and evil, his first flight of fancy commonly transports him to ideas of what is most perfect, finished, and exalted, till, having soared out of his own reach and sight, not well perceiving how near the frontiers of height and depth border upon each other, with the same course and wing he falls down plump into the lowest bottom of things, like one who travels the east into the west, or like a straight line drawn by its own length into a circle."

— Swift, Jonathan (1667-1745)


Work Title
Place of Publication
London
Publisher
Printed for John Nutt
Date
May 10, 1704
Metaphor
"And whereas the mind of man, when he gives the spur and bridle to his thoughts, does never stop, but naturally sallies out into both extremes of high and low, of good and evil, his first flight of fancy commonly transports him to ideas of what is most perfect, finished, and exalted, till, having soared out of his own reach and sight, not well perceiving how near the frontiers of height and depth border upon each other, with the same course and wing he falls down plump into the lowest bottom of things, like one who travels the east into the west, or like a straight line drawn by its own length into a circle."
Metaphor in Context
And whereas the mind of man, when he gives the spur and bridle to his thoughts, does never stop, but naturally sallies out into both extremes of high and low, of good and evil, his first flight of fancy commonly transports him to ideas of what is most perfect, finished, and exalted, till, having soared out of his own reach and sight, not well perceiving how near the frontiers of height and depth border upon each other, with the same course and wing he falls down plump into the lowest bottom of things, like one who travels the east into the west, or like a straight line drawn by its own length into a circle. Whether a tincture of malice in our natures makes us fond of furnishing every bright idea with its reverse, or whether reason, reflecting upon the sum of things, can, like the sun, serve only to enlighten one half of the globe, leaving the other half by necessity under shade and darkness, or whether fancy, flying up to the imagination of what is highest and best, becomes over-short, and spent, and weary, and suddenly falls, like a dead bird of paradise, to the ground; or whether, after all these metaphysical conjectures, I have not entirely missed the true reason; the proposition, however, which has stood me in so much circumstance is altogether true, that as the most uncivilised parts of mankind have some way or other climbed up into the conception of a God or Supreme Power, so they have seldom forgot to provide their fears with certain ghastly notions, which, instead of better, have served them pretty tolerably for a devil. And this proceeding seems to be natural enough, for it is with men whose imaginations are lifted up very high after the same rate as with those whose bodies are so, that as they are delighted with the advantage of a nearer contemplation upwards, so they are equally terrified with the dismal prospect of the precipice below. Thus in the choice of a devil it has been the usual method of mankind to single out some being, either in act or in vision, which was in most antipathy to the god they had framed. Thus also the sect of the AEolists possessed themselves with a dread and horror and hatred of two malignant natures, betwixt whom and the deities they adored perpetual enmity was established. The first of these was the chameleon, sworn foe to inspiration, who in scorn devoured large influences of their god, without refunding the smallest blast by eructation. The other was a huge terrible monster called Moulinavent, who with four strong arms waged eternal battle with all their divinities, dexterously turning to avoid their blows and repay them with interest. (pp. 76-7 in OUP ed.)
Provenance
Reading
Citation
43 entries in the ESTC (1704, 1705, 1710, 1711, 1724, 1726, 1727, 1733, 1734, 1739, 1741, 1742, 1743, 1747, 1750, 1751, 1752, 1753, 1754, 1756, 1760, 1762, 1766, 1768, 1769, 1771, 1772, 1776, 1781, 1784, 1798).

Reading Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub and Other Works, eds. Angus Ross and David Woolley. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). Some text drawn from ebooks@Adelaide.

Note, the textual history is complicated. First published May 10, 1704. The second edition of 1704 and the fifth of 1710 include new material. Ross and Woolley's text is an eclectic one, based on the three authoritative editions.

See A Tale of a Tub. Written for the Universal Improvement of Mankind. To Which Is Added, an Account of a Battel Between the Antient and Modern Books in St. James’s Library, 2nd edition, corrected (London: Printed for John Nutt, 1704). <Link to ESTC>
Date of Entry
09/11/2013

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.