Gulliver’s Travels

by: Jonathan Swift

Government

1

Whereupon the Emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown.

Reldresal, the principal secretary for private affairs at the imperial court of Lilliput, explains the political situation in Lilliput to Gulliver. The passage satirizes the history of England, with its numerous wars and rebellions fought over the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions. Charles I lost his life in 1640 in the English Civil War, and James II lost his crown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Both kings were charged with being secret Catholics. The juxtaposition points out the tragic absurdity of fighting wars over religion.

2

Above all, he was amazed to hear me talk of a mercenary standing army in the midst of peace, and among a free people. 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.

Gulliver spends hours conversing with the king of Brobdingnag, a land of giants in which Gulliver, despite his size, stands as a tiny stranger. With patriotic fervor, Gulliver explains the government of England to the king, who remains unimpressed. In his questions and observations about government, the king of Brobdingnag voices the political dissent of the times in which the book was published. The existence of a standing English army in Ireland was proof that Irishmen were not a free people governed by their own consent.

3

In the school of political projectors I was but ill entertained, the professors appearing in my judgment wholly out of their senses, which is a scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy people were proposing schemes for persuading monarchs to choose favourites upon the score of their wisdom, capacity and virtue; of teaching ministers to consult the public good; of rewarding merit, great abilities, and eminent services; of instructing princes to know their true interest, by placing it on the same foundation with that of their people[.]

Gulliver describes his observations of Balnibarbi, a land ruled from Laputa, a floating island of abstract thinkers. The Laputan rulers established academies in Balnibarbi, all dedicated to absurdly nonsensical projects like extracting sunshine from cucumbers or building houses from the roof down. Gulliver accepts the science projects at face value but balks at the schemes of the political school for a rational, humane government, too crazy even for the ever-gullible Gulliver to believe.