I decided to read the 100 greatest books ever written. What was I thinking? Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
I’m opinionated about good writing. By today’s standards, none of the above belong in that top basket. Cather couldn’t tell a story. Huxley simply pitched drugs and free love. And any imaginative teenager could write Swift’s book.
Nevertheless, there were some hidden gems in the “100 greatest” reflecting today’s issues and anxieties and reminding me why we carry. From one of the first published novels, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, 1605-1615:
…we were set upon by four highwaymen, who stripped us even to our very whiskers … those who robbed us were galley-slaves, that, almost in this very place, were set at liberty by a man so valiant, as to let them all loose, in spite of the commissary and his guards.
Then, in conversations between Gulliver and the giant King of Brobdingnag:
He said, if we were governed by our own consent in the persons of our representatives, he could not imagine of whom we were afraid, or against whom we were to fight; and would hear my opinion whether a private man’s house might not be better defended by himself, his children, and family; than by half a dozen rascals picked up at a venture in the streets, for small wages, who might get an hundred times more by cutting their throats.
In Travels — published a century after Cervantes in 1726 — Swift delineates problems confronting his English/Irish world, one of which was crime. Crime in Britain and France was as horrific as the punishments, which included drawing and quartering and public executions. When street robber Jack Sheppard was hanged in 1724 after making four escapes from prison, it is said that 200,000 people attended his execution.
Law enforcement of the 18th century was very different from modern-day policing. Criminal prosecution remained largely in the hands of the victims themselves, who organized their own investigations. Every British parish was obliged to have a local, unpaid constable who performed policing duties only in his spare time.
Little had changed 135 years later in 1859 when Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities:
What’s coming on?
The treason case.
The quartering one, eh?
Ah! Returned the man with a relish; he’ll be drawn on a hurdle to be half hanged, and then he’ll be taken down and sliced before his own face, and then his inside will be taken out and burnt while he looks on, and then his head will be chopped off, and he’ll be cut into quarters. That’s the sentence.
If he’s found guilty, you mean to say?
Oh! They’ll find him guilty. Don’t you be afraid of that.
Why We Concealed Carry
These authors, roughly a hundred years apart, tell the same story — that is that citizens must be on their own guard, including against government.
- Cervantes draws our attention to assault and robbery by criminals (galley-slaves) loosed from prison by a “valiant” official.
- In Swift’s tale, the foreign king wonders why hired mercenaries are better than one’s own family to defend the home.
- The prisoner in Dickens’ epic is assumed to be guilty, and the crowd can’t wait for the spectacle of his horrific dismemberment.
Today, the tables have definitely turned in favor of criminals.
Thank God for the Second Amendment. Even Gulliver carried a sword.
About Rick Sapp
After his stint in the U.S. Army, including time as an infantry platoon leader and working with West German KRIPO during the 1968 Soviet invasion, Rick Sapp returned home to earn a Ph.D. in social anthropology. Following his education from the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Catholic University of America and the University of Florida, he moved to France for a year. Rick worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before turning to journalism and freelance writing, authoring more than 50 books for a variety of publishers.