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.