11 January 2022
Some years ago the archives received a query from a correspondent who was convinced that because Jonathan Swift made his immortal hero, Lemuel Gulliver, an Emmanuel man, it followed that Swift himself must have been among our alumni. His absence from our admission register could apparently be explained by the fact that the college had erased all evidence of its connection with the controversial satirist.
It was an entertaining, but implausible, theory, for the Emma authorities have never troubled to doctor the college’s admission records, however notorious a member became in later life. In fact, Gulliver’s presence at Emma is believed to have been Swift’s tribute to the celebrated diplomat and man of letters, Sir William Temple (Plate 1—L: title & opening pages of Gulliver’s Travels, Cresset Press 1930, from Emmanuel’s Graham Watson Collection).
Temple was admitted to Emmanuel as a fellow commoner in August 1644, having been educated at Bishop’s Stortford grammar school. According to his sister Martha, Lady Giffard, who wrote a delightful memoir of her older brother, the family intended that young William should go up to Cambridge immediately after leaving school, but ‘the disorders of that time…hindered his goeing to the university’. Despite this delay, Temple was still only sixteen when he came to Emma, too young and insouciant to appreciate the intellectual opportunities on offer. Lady Giffard recalled that her brother was ‘placed... under the care of Dr Cudworth, who would have engaged him in the harsh studies of logick and phylosophy which his humor was too lively to pursue. Entertainments which agreed better with that & his age, especially Tennis, past most of his time there, soe that I have heard him say, if it had bin possible in the two years time he past there to forgit all he had learn’t before, he must certainely have done it’.
It sounds as though Temple thoroughly enjoyed his scholastically indolent sojourn at Emma, and it is pleasing to think of him making good use of the college’s walled tennis court (Plate 2—R: Emmanuel’s Jacobean tennis court; Plate 3—Below L: Temple's 'Caudle' cup, presented to the college in 1677). The only fly in the ointment was his room-mate James Beverley, whom he disliked. Beverley later paid court to Temple’s sweetheart, Dorothy Osborne, an unwise manoeuvre that provoked Temple into telling Dorothy scornfully that his former chamber-fellow was a ‘whelp’, who had forever been importuning their shared tutor. On being informed by Dorothy that she intended to marry Temple, Beverley ranted that she would soon be ‘the misserablest Person upon Earth’, and called his rival ‘the Proudest imperious insulting ilnatured man that ever was’. Relating this outburst to her fiancée, Dorothy commented: ‘Is this not very comfortable? But pray make it no quarrell, I make it none, I can assure you…besides that his Testimony is not of much Valew’.
After retiring from public affairs, Temple planned to put his unpublished writings into order and some of them into print. To aid him in this task he employed the young Jonathan Swift as his amanuensis, and although their working relationship had its ups and downs, the two men seem to have liked and respected each other. After Temple’s death in January 1699 Swift continued to edit his papers, but his ill-judged publication in 1709 of a memoir written by Temple for family perusal only, containing frank observations about several prominent figures, earned him the undying enmity of Lady Giffard.
As to Swift’s motive in placing Lemuel Gulliver at Emmanuel, there is no reason to suspect any satirical intent. At the time that Gulliver’s Travels was published, in 1726, Emmanuel was neither the puritan seminary it had been, nor yet the favoured resort of the smart set it was to become; in fact, the early eighteenth century was a particularly quiescent period in the college’s history, so hardly the stuff of satire. Gulliver’s residence at Emma may therefore be accepted as an affectionate homage to Temple, of whom Swift wrote: ‘He died at one o’clock in the morning and with him all that was great and good among men’.
Below—L–R: Gulliver’s Travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler; Far L: Gulliver captures the fleet of Lilliput’s equally miniature rivals, the empire of Blefuscu; Centre L: Gulliver is received in state by the Emperor of Lilliput; Centre R: Gulliver narrowly escapes death from gigantic falling apples in Brobdingnag; Far R: Standing on the special case made to house him, Gulliver describes the state of Europe to the King of Brobdingnag. His Majesty is unimpressed, and horrified to learn of the use of guns and cannons
Amanda Goode, College ArchivistBack to All Blog Posts