Jonathan Swift published Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships in 1726 as a satire on human nature. Wikipedia also adds,

Published seven years after Daniel Defoe's wildly successful Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels may be read as a systematic rebuttal of Defoe's optimistic account of human capability.

This is not the typical stuff that children's books are made of, but today, Gulliver's Travels is typically included in lists of children's books, especially the parts situated in Lilliput and Brobdingnag.

When exactly did people begin treating Gulliver's Travels as a children's book? The Wikipedia articles on the book itself and Jonathan Swift don't provide information about this, and a search about the book's reception history did not help either. There are a number of online articles and blogposts that point out that the back was not written as a children's book, but they don't say when the change in perception occurred. See for example Gulliver’s Travels Wasn’t Meant to Be a Children’s Book And More Things You Didn’t Know About the Literary Classic on the Smithsonian's website, and, in German, Gullivers Reisen.

  • Not just Gulliver's Travels. Lots and lots of old classics have been adapted for children: Tales from Shakespeare, Classic Comics, etc. etc. That doesn't mean that Shakespeare et al. have been degraded; adults still read and appreciate the originals. Same with Gulliver's Travels, as far as I know. – user14111 Aug 10 at 11:55
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    @user14111 The difference between Shakespeare's plays and Gulliver's Travels is that many people think that the latter is a children's book. This is not the case with Shakespeare's plays. – Christophe Strobbe Aug 10 at 12:53
  • Sad if true. Do you have evidence that such ignorance is widespread? Among educated people? – user14111 Aug 11 at 0:38
  • It's fantasy. Therefore, it's obviously a children's book. When was this attitude most prevalent? Certainly early 20th century, but I'd guess it started somewhat earlier. – Peter Shor Aug 11 at 12:10
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    @user14111 FWIW, as a child I read a book called Gulliver's Travels containing the Lilliput and Brogdingnag stories, and I long thought that that was all there was to Gulliver's Travels. Never heard of the other travels until much later. – Rand al'Thor Aug 12 at 13:37

After a few more searches, I discovered the blog post Curator's Choice: Gulliver's Travels on the Toronto Reference Library Blog (21 April 2016). This blog post mentions an abridged edition for children by Francis Newbery, published in 1776, i.e. 50 years after the publication of the original work. It contains only the first two of Gulliver's voyages, i.e. to Lilliput and Brogdingnag. The title is The Adventures of Captain Gulliver in a Voyage to the Islands of Lilliput and Brogdingnag — Abridged from the Works of The Celebrated Dean Swift.

According to Vera Tweddell (University of Rochester Library), this 'appears to be the first "juvenile" edition of Gulliver, published at the end of the eighteenth century, and of the greatest scarcity.'

The British Library has this edition in its collections: it is a chapbook edition ("pocket book" in more modern parlance) with woodcut illustrations.

The Toronto Reference Library blog post also mentions that Benjamin Tabart's Tabart's Improved Edition of the Voyages & Travels of Capt. L. Gulliver, published in 1805 in four volumes, contained all four voyages in abridged form. This edition even had coloured plates.

This means that Gullivers Travels was adapted to a children's book much earlier than I expected when I posted the question. Even the "adult" edition of the book had been popular with children from the start. In November 1726, John Gay wrote to Swift, "From the highest to the lowest it is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery".

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