Dean Swift on the Secrets of Interpretation

His digressions are more eloquent than most days-long conferences.

To those museum professionals who think they have discovered a new way to engage visitors, that is to entertain them, we offer the following.

And to those professionals who say education is the sole and perpetual purpose of museums, until those others dumbed it down, we offer the following.

The following is Jonathan Swift’s “A Digression in the Modern Kind” from his 1710 work A Tale of the Tub. It seems your arguments and the thought that your thought is new are nothing new.

 

We whom the world is pleased to honour with the title of modern authors, should never have been able to compass our great design of an everlasting remembrance and never-dying fame if our endeavours had not been so highly serviceable to the general good of mankind. This, O universe! is the adventurous attempt of me, thy secretary;

“Quemvis perferre laborem Suadet, et inducit noctes vigilare serenas.”

To this end I have some time since, with a world of pains and art, dissected the carcass of human nature, and read many useful lectures upon the several parts, both containing and contained, till at last it smelt so strong I could preserve it no longer. Upon which I have been at a great expense to fit up all the bones with exact contexture and in due symmetry, so that I am ready to show a very complete anatomy thereof to all curious gentlemen and others. But not to digress further in the midst of a digression, as I have known some authors enclose digressions in one another like a nest of boxes, I do affirm that, having carefully cut up human nature, I have found a very strange, new, and important discovery: that the public good of mankind is performed by two ways–instruction and diversion. And I have further proved my said several readings (which, perhaps, the world may one day see, if I can prevail on any friend to steal a copy, or on certain gentlemen of my admirers to be very importunate) that, as mankind is now disposed, he receives much greater advantage by being diverted than instructed, his epidemical diseases being fastidiosity, amorphy, and oscitation; whereas, in the present universal empire of wit and learning, there seems but little matter left for instruction. However, in compliance with a lesson of great age and authority, I have attempted carrying the point in all its heights, and accordingly throughout this divine treatise have skilfully kneaded up both together with a layer of utile and a layer of dulce.

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About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

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