The Logicians Refuted

Read by Gregg Margarite. Written by Jonathan Swift (or Oliver Goldsmith, see note).

Very much in the tradition of Diogenes, who on hearing Plato had defined humans as “featherless bipeds”, presented him with a plucked chicken, the poet satirically punctures humanity’s supposed elevated status.

He explicitly argues against Aristotle and Smiglesius (1564 – 1618, Polish Jesuit philosopher, known for his 1618 Logica, commonly used as a textbook), and implicitly against those in his own time who presented reason as all important. The poet retorts that man is weak and erring, and instinct is a better guide. He makes a long list of man’s follies and foibles (including a dig at Sir Robert Walpole or “Bob”, who employed party-writers to write his praises). He claims animals avoid these errors (though his knowledge of beasts is not as accurate as that of man). He finally notes human similarity to apes, and that humans at court yet manage to out-ape the apes.

Full text of the poem.

Note: This video attributes the authorship of this work to Jonathan Swift, but it is also attributed to Oliver Goldsmith.

Austin Dobson included it in his 1906 collection of Goldsmith’s work but noted that it had first been published (in the Busy Bee, 18th October, 1759) under Swift’s name, and was attributed to Goldsmith by T. Evans in volume i. pp. 115-17 of ‘The Poetical and Dramatic Works of Oliver Goldsmith, M. B. (1780)(*). It had also been included in a 1765 volume ‘Essays by Mr. Goldsmith’ collected by Griffin and Newbery(*).

Many lampoons have been mistakenly attributed to Swift but on the other hand many attributions to Goldsmith (whose pieces were often printed uncredited) are also dubious. Stylistic evidence used (eg here) to evaluate authorship is unhelpful here since if Goldsmith’s, it is consciously imitating Jonathan Swift’s style.

In terms of the contents, both Swift and Goldsmith detested Smiglesius (*). Paternoster Row was a place of booksellers by 1720 (*). Walpole (1676-1745) was dead fourteen years by 1739, but Goldsmith could have drawn from eg. Pope’s satires (*). The poem might, perhaps, be too optimistic about instinct compared to “Gulliver’s Travels”, but the cynicism is certainly there. This 1973 article calls the attribution to Goldsmith “dubious”, but unless an earlier printing attributed to Swift is found the question is open.

Both authors, by the way, are included in DoIP.

Scroll to Top