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Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 2

He said, he knew no Reason, why those who entertain Opinions prejudicial to the Publick, should be obliged to change, or should not be obliged to conceal them. And, as it was Tyranny in any Government to require the first, so it was Weakness not to enforce the second.

This quotation comes from a conversation between Gulliver and the king of Brobdingnag, in Part II, Chapter VI. The belief expressed by the king is one that Swift, writing in his own voice, expressed elsewhere: that people have the right to their own beliefs but not the right to express them at will. As always, it is difficult to determine whether or not Swift’s view is exactly the one advanced by his characters. The king has little sympathy for many English institutions as Gulliver describes them to him. Swift would probably not have rejected such institutions, and we should keep in mind that Brobdingnagian criticism does not always imply Swiftian criticism. Indeed, Gulliver’s Travels could be considered to contain at least a few “Opinions prejudicial to the Publick”—unpopular opinions, in other words—so it is unlikely that Swift is in favor of suppressing all social criticism entirely. Whatever the final interpretation, the quotation raises interesting issues of censorship, freedom of speech, and the rightful place of indirect forms of criticism, such as the satire of which Swift was a master.