A Tale of a Tub
- A Tale of a Tub was the first major work written by Jonathan Swift, composed between 1694 and 1697 and published in 1704. It is arguably his most difficult satire, and perhaps his most masterly. The Tale is a prose parody which is divided into sections of "digression" and a "tale" of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity. The "tale" presents a consistent satire of religious excess, while the digressions are a series of parodies of contemporary writing in literature, politics, theology, Biblical exegesis, and medicine. The overarching parody is of enthusiasm, pride, and credulity. A Tale of a Tub "effectively disbarred its author from proper preferment within the church," but is considered one of Swift's best allegories, even by himself. It was enormously popular, but Swift believed it damaged his prospect of advancement in the Church of England. The "tale," or narrative, is an allegory that concerns the adventures of three brothers, Peter, Martin, and Jack, as they attempt to make their way in the world. Each of the brothers represents one of the primary branches of Christianity in the West. Peter (named for Saint Peter) stands in for the Roman Catholic Church. Jack (named for John Calvin) represents the various Dissenting Protestant churches such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Congregationalists, or Anabaptists. The third brother, middle born and middle standing, is Martin (named for Martin Luther), whom Swift uses to represent the middle way of the Church of England. The brothers have inherited three wonderfully satisfactory coats from their father, and they have his will to guide them. Although the will says that the brothers are forbidden from making any changes to their coats, they do nearly nothing but alter their coats from the start. In as much as the will represents the Bible, and the coats represents the practice of Christianity, the allegory of the narrative is supposed to be an apology for the Anglican church's refusal to alter its practice in accordance with Puritan demands and its continued resistance to alliance with the Roman church. A Tale of a Tub is an enormous parody with a number of smaller parodies within it. Robert Hendrickson notes in his book British Literary Anecdotes that "Swift was always partial to his strikingly original The Tale of a Tub. On reading the work again in later years, he exclaimed 'Good God! What a genius I had when I wrote that book!'"