Hey Presto! Swift and the Quacks

Cover: Hey Presto! Swift and the Quacks
Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2012
Hugh Ormsby-Lennon

June 2011 • ISBN 978-1-64453-114-3 • $150.00

June 2011 • ISBN 978-1-64453-115-0 • $62.00

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In this book the author reveals how medicine shows, both ancient and modern, galvanized Jonathan Swift’s imagination and inspired his wittiest satiric voices. Swift dubbed these multifaceted traveling entertainments his Stage-itinerant or “Mountebank’s Stage.” In the course of arguing that the stage-itinerant formed an irresistible model for A Tale of a Tub, Ormsby-Lennon also surmises that the mountebank’s stage will disclose that missing link, long sought, which connects the twin objects of Swift’s ire: gross corruptions in both religion and learning. In the early modern medicine show, the quack doctor delivered a loquacious harangue, infused with magico-mysticism and pseudoscience, high-astounding promises, and boastful narcissism. To help him sell his panaceas and snake-oil, he employed a Merry Andrew and a motley troupe of performers. From their stages, many quacks also peddled their own books, almanacs, and other ephemera, providing Grub Street with many of its best-sellers. Hacks practiced, quite literally, as quacks. Merry Andrew and mountebank traded costumes, whiskers, and voices. Swift apes them all in the Tale.

About the Author

Hugh Ormsby-Lennon is Professor Emeritus of English at Villanova University.

Reviews of 'Hey Presto! Swift and the Quacks'

Ormsby-Lennon’s thesis is both provocatively original and as old as Jonathan Swift’s Tale of a Tub itself […] Indeed, this book’s chief strength is its careful, sustained exhumation of so much relevant material. […] the book’s sheer contextualizing detail makes it an invaluable, sustaining resource for future Swift scholarship.
- Choice
There is a significant crop of books on Swift, of which the most important is Hugh Ormsby-Lennon’s Hey Presto! Swift and the Quacks […] It is a work of vast erudi­tion and sharp insight […] and provides one of the most interesting recent developments in Swift studies.
- Recent Studies in the Restoration and Eighteenth Century
Hey Presto! presents the type of “history” Swift himself preferred, the charged rhetorical version that regularly issued from his own gene of satire.
- The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer