Generations of readers have taken great delight in the box of curiosities created for Lemuel Gulliver in Brobdingnag. In a land where Gulliver was quite tiny and his hosts very large, the everyday objects observed by Gulliver are seen from a new perspective. Unable to use even the most basic cutlery on account of its monstrous size, Gulliver finds himself in a world of implements he could not possibly wield. However, the queen of Brobdingnag has a box created to house the now Lilliputian Gulliver, and the most accomplished craftsmen of the land furnish his miniature world:
“The queen commanded her own cabinet-maker to contrive a box, that might serve me for a bedchamber, after the model that Glumdalclitch and I should agree upon. This man was a most ingenious artist, and according to my direction, in three weeks finished for me a wooden chamber of sixteen feet square, and twelve high, with sash-windows, a door, and two closets, like a London bed-chamber. The board, that made the ceiling, was to be lifted up and down by two hinges, to put in a bed ready furnished by her majesty’s upholsterer, which Glumdalclitch took out every day to air, made it with her own hands, and letting it down at night, locked up the roof over me. A nice workman, who was famous for little curiosities, undertook to make me two chairs, with backs and frames, of a substance not unlike ivory, and two tables, with a cabinet to put my things in. The room was quilted on all sides, as well as the floor and the ceiling, to prevent any accident from the carelessness of those who carried me, and to break the force of a jolt, when I went in a coach. I desired a lock for my door, to prevent rats and mice from coming in. The smith, after several attempts, made the smallest that ever was seen among them, for I have known a larger at the gate of a gentleman’s house in England. I made a shift to keep the key in a pocket of my own, fearing Glumdalclitch might lose it. The queen likewise ordered the thinnest silks that could be gotten, to make me clothes, not much thicker than an English blanket, very cumbersome till I was accustomed to them. They were after the fashion of the kingdom, partly resembling the Persian, and partly the Chinese, and are a very grave and decent habit.” (Swift, Gulliver’s Travels)
The William F. Cunningham, Jr. Collection of Jonathan Swift Materials at the Burns Library is a similar sort of box of curiosities that provides a world of information to the observant spectator. William Cunningham Jr. is a retired Professor of English, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Academic Vice President of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and his professional and personal interest in Swift led him to collect editions of Swift’s books printed from the eighteenth to the twentieth century as well as the strange and wonderful literary paraphernalia of Swift’s work and the commercial and artistic materials of modern adaptations. Consequently, posters, advertisements, post cards, coloring books, dust jackets, playing cards, bookmarks, puzzles, glasses, shirts, magnets, life-size cut outs, snuff tins, stamps, movie stills, and theatre programs accompany the more common archival items such as poems, letters, articles, and illustrations. The Cunningham Collection of Swift Materials is a curio box full of wonders—such as a miniature edition of Gulliver’s Travels and a curio box showing Gulliver with the Lilliputians (pictured above). Yet, these items are not merely oddities to be disregarded; they chronicle the life of a literary work that has leapt off its pages into the imaginations of children and adults for almost three centuries. The reworking of the novel’s images, characters, and themes can be carefully traced through these items by the traveler willing to stray off-course into the uncharted waters of the Burns Library and Gulliver-like observe the literary world from a new perspective.
- Andrew Kuhn, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English,firstname.lastname@example.org