Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

Gulliver then switches to describing his domestic arrangements: he made  himself his chair and table from the highest trees which grew in the royal park. Three hundred sempstresses laboured over his shirts and linen and three hundred tailors over his clothes (an interesting piece of information about labour division along gender lines, I assume it was the same in England). He also describes the complicated ways they had to use to take his measurements, but the sempstresses only measured him from neck to mid-leg, and the rest of measurements they calculated by measuring his right thumb and multiplying it (twice round his thumb is his wrist and s on). Three hundred cooks cooked for him. The emperor once came to dinner with his whole family and Flimnap, Gulliver’s secret enemy, who after the dinner keeps on telling the emperor that the budget may not support Gulliver’s feeding anymore. Flimnap is a particular enemy of Gulliver because he believed some malicious gossip that his wife is in love with Gulliver. Gulliver gets very worked up, trying to explain himself and saying they were just friends, the lady never came to visit him alone. The usual manner of her visits was that she came in a coach with several other ladies, Gulliver placed the whole coach with two horses (if there were more than two, postillions unharnessed the rest) on his table, around which he placed a rim to prevent accidents, and conversed with them with his head leaning on the table. He often entertained several coaches full of visitors in this way. Swift pokes some gentle fun at Gulliver: the charges were made by people whom nobody knows in England (let us pretend for a moment they are not fictitious), against a lady whose honour is also quite an indifferent matter to his English readers, and still Gulliver makes a big show of his injured innocence: he names and shames the informers, defends the lady’s virtue and emphasizes that his title, in fact, was higher in the aristocratic hierarchy than that of Flimnap’s.

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Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

After one more moral remark about how ingratitude is one of the greatest of sins for the Lilliput (he who is ungrateful to his benefactor will not behave properly with regard to other people as well), Gulliver describes in detail the educational system of the Lilliput, which is a curious mixture of totalitarianism and class system. The Lilliput believe that children are under no moral obligation to their parents to be grateful to them, because they could neither help conceiving them nor can help loving them, because it’s simply instinct. So at the age of twenty months, when they are supposed “to have some rudiments of docility”, are sent to communal nurseries, segregated according to their sex and their parents’ social class. Only the children of laborers and peasants are exempt from that, because they don’t need any education so who cares. Several thoughts here: a) Swift must have never heard about “the terrible twos”. b) Swift indicates that the Lilliput age faster than we do, which makes sense (just like smaller animals on average live shorter lives than large ones), but he is not very consistent in saying whether he refers to their Lilliput age, or the age converted into human years. But be that as it may, twenty months is just a little below or a little above two human years. The education system is pretty much like envisaged by all the childless moralists: children are not pampered, have a lot of exercise, and are brought up in love of all the possible virtues. As usual, great emphasis is also put on the fact that their contact with servants must be kept to the minimum. All the education theorists starting from Locke were motally afraid of the detrimental effect servants supposedly had on children, I don’t know why. I’m sure many middle- and upper-class parents delegated the duties of child-rearing to servants, but judging by the horror with which moralists write about the influence of servants on children, it’s like they were brought up by newly released prison inmates. The visits from parents are limited to twice a year per hour. Young women are brought up exactly in the same way, Gulliver assures us, except their physical training is not as robust, they get some home economics classes and “a smaller compass of learning”. So, not exactly the same, but Gulliver perceives it apparently as very advanced intellectually, quoting the argument that “a wife should be always a reasonable and agreeable companion, because she cannot always be young”. The upper class boys continue their education since they are twenty-one in human years, girls are sent home when they are twelve (it’s unclear whether in Lilliput or human years), which is considered a marriageable age. How they are supposed to live with the parents who are almost strangers to them, Gulliver doesn’t explain. Sons of tradesmen and others also leave school earlier to be apprenticed. The nurseries are financed by parents or if they can’t afford it, by the state. All parents are required also to set apart some money for their children’s portions: the richer parents set aside certain sums at once, the poorer are required to put at least a small percentage of their income  every month in a kind of trust fund.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

The next chapter is a descripton of Lilliput culture and social life in the usual manner indebted to More’s Utopia: a little bit of “the world upside down”, a little bit os “wouldn’t it be nice if we did the same”. Their whole world is scaled down more or less according to the ration 12:1, and their senses are adapted to it, so they can see tiny things Gulliver can’t. They bury their dead with their heads pointing downwards, because they believe that the world is flat and during the resurrection it is going to turn upside down, so they should stand on their feet. The educated elites do not believe this anymore, but the popular custom persists. Their alphabet is very curious, because it’s not written like any known or made-up language but aslant from one corner of the page to the other, as it was the fashion then with ladies in England. Gulliver spends some time on describing their justice system: a person accused of treason and proven to be innocent gets a quadruple recompense from his accuser’s property, or if that’s not enough, it’s supplied by the crown fund. They consider fraud to be a greater crime than theft, because against theft any reasonable can defend themselves, but honest people are usually outmatched by cunning fraudsters. Gulliver learnt it when he tried to defend an embezzler, saying it was just a breach of trust and the emperor thought it was precisely what made it such a great crime. They believe that justice system should include not only punishments, but also rewards, and for that reason any person who can prove they lived for seventy-three moons without the smallest breach of law get some privileges, depending on their social position and also an honorary title of “Snilpall”, meaning “Legal”. I wonder how many of us could achieve this title, without ever even jaywalking. For that reason also their allegories of justice show it as unlike our Themis as possible: with six eyes around her head, to show she can see both in the past and in the future, with  an open bag of gold and a sheathed sword, to show she prefers to reward than to punish. In choosing people for public offices they believe more in virtue than in professionalism: any reasonable person can learn anything necessary for his job, but the lack of morals cannot be supplanted by any kind of training. Swift then realizes that this praise of Lilliputian mode of government doesn’t rhyme with what he wrote in a previous chapter about rope-dancing etc., so he hastens to add that these good institutions became inevitably cocrrupt because of the “degenerate nature of men” and these inventions were introduced fairly recently, by the grandfather of the present emperor.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

Three weeks later the ambassadors from Blefuscu arrive, asking for a peace treaty. Gulliver “did them several good offices” during the negotiations and they come to thank him and invite him as a guest to their kingdom. Gulliver asks them to send his respects to their emperor and later asks the emperor of Lilliput for the permission to visit Blefuscu, which is granted very coldly. Later on he learns that his willingness to help Blefuscu was interpreted by his enemies at court as “a mark of disaffection”. Gulliver notices that the ambassadors spoke to him through an interpreter, because the languages of Blefuscu and Lilliput differ “as any two in Europe”, which is not very informative. As Spanish and Italian, or as Gaelic and Russian? The emperor, however, made them speak in Lilliput to show who’s dictating the rules, and indeed, because of the constant intercourse between the two countries, most educated people in both countries, as well as merchants and seamen, can speak both languages.

Gulliver, in his new capacity as a nardac, is not expected anymore to perform the services which were required of him in the previously mentioned contract. But he manages to perform one more service, when the emperor’s palace is on fire. He is woken in the middle of the night and asked to come for help. Fortunately it was a clear moonlit night and the streets were also cleared for his passage, so he managed not to kill anybody. He helps people to pass the buckets of water, but the source is rather far away and the buckets are no bigger than thimbles. He left his coat in hurry behind, so he couldn’t use it to stifle the flames. Finally he thought about what seemed to him to be a great solution: since the previous evening he drank a lot of local delicious and rather diuretic wine, he peed on the palace and extinguished the flames completely. He returns home in the morning, rather uncertain how it will be received, because it’s a capital offence to pass water in the vicinity of the palace. He is assured that the emperor asked the Grand Justiciary for a special pardon, which he, however, does not receive formally. Also he learns that the empress is so disgusted that she moved to the most distant part of the court, resolved that she would never move back and privately swore revenge. This is apparently an allusion to Queen Anne, who was disgusted with the coarseness of Swift’s A Tale of a Tub.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

Gulliver asks the most experienced sailors about the depth of the sea in the strait between Lilliput and Blefuscu, and they assure him it’s six feet at most, and that only at high water. He creeps to the shore on the side facing Blefuscu and, trying not to reveal himself, he looks through his perspective and observes the warships of Blefuscu gathered in the port. He asks the emperor for the thickest rope and bars of iron, which are respectively like packing thread and knitting needles. He twist them together to make them into stronger ropes and hooks and with them in his pocket, he goes into the sea, right before the high tide and partly walking, partly swimming, reaches the port of Blefuscu. All the sailors seeing him run away and he can use the hooks and ropes to pull the ships after him, having cut their anchor cables. It’s not so easy because the Blefuscudians fire many arrows at him and he is afraid especially about his eyes, until he remembers his spectacles, which he puts on. Having got safely past the shooting distance, he stops for a while to put the soothing ointment on his wounds and wait for the high tide to subside. When he reaches the shores of Lilliput, the emperor and his court waiting there first can’t see him, as only his head is above the water and they think he might die in action. But they are overjoyed when he approaches and the emperor bestows upon him the highest title in the land. However, Gulliver’s favour is short-lived because the emperor gets greedy and wants him to bring the few remaining Blefuscan ships, after which he can be “sole monarch of the whole word”, set his viceroy in Blefuscu, destroy the Big-Endian exiles and compel the rest to break their eggs at the small end. Gulliver opposes it, trying to reason with the emperor, but also saying point-blank that he will never help to bring “a free and brave people into slavery”. The emperor lets his dissatisfaction be known to his council, and some of his ministers agree with him, starting to conspire with him against Gulliver. Gulliver comments sententiously that “of so little weight are the greatest services to princes, when put into the balance with a refusal to gratify their passions”. As the Helpful Footnote informs us, this is an allusion to the Treaty of Utrecht, ending the war with France, which was engineered by some Tory ministers, who were subsequently accused of having sold out to the French.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

The High-Heel party has a majority but the Low-Heel party is favoured by the emperor, whose heels are lower than anybody’s in the court. The heir presumptive may have some sympathies towards the High-Heelers, because his one heel is a bit higher than the other one, so much that it makes him hobble. This is an allegory for the political situation under George I, who favoured the Whigs, but Prince of Wales (later George II) had friends in both parties. All this is exacerbated by another conflict, this time religious. When the grandfather of the present emperor, as a boy, cut himself while breaking a boiled egg from the large side, his father passed a law making all his subjects break eggs from the small side. This led to many religious wars, one emperor (Charles I ) losing his head and another (Charles Ii ) losing his crown. Moreover, it gave the neighbouring country of Blefuscu a pretext to start a war, accusing the Lilliput of breaking one of their tenets of faith set down by their great prophet Lustrog, although actually in his writings he only commended the believers to break their eggs at the convenient end, which in the opinion of the secretary is either upt to them to decide or to the authorities. (The Lilliput believe there are only their country and Blefuscu in the whole world, and they don’t quite believe Gulliver’s claims that there are many other people like him, because who could feed them?) The secretary was authorized by the emperor to explain all that to Gulliver, who for his part says that as a foreigner, he doesn’t want to be involved in the faction fight, but he will defend the Lilliput, as he swore, even at the risk of his own death.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 1 (ctd.)

Gulliver swears to all the articles, even though “some of them were not so honourable as I could have wished”, attributing it to the malice Skyresh Bolgolam. I can’t see anything demeaning about them and surely the clause to perform some relatively easy services in exchange for the food and drink equivalent to those of 1,728 Lilliput men is not excessive? BTW, Gulliver explains how the Lilliput arrived at that number: they measured  him, found him twelve time as high as the Lilliput and 1,728 is 12 cubed. His chains are taken over in a ceremony attended by the emperor. After that, he expresses the wish to visit the capital Mildendo as his wish is granted. He can only walk sideways through the main streets, emptied of all passers by. He gives a lot of information about Mildendo, including its population (500,000, while London at that time was about 700,000), but he says he saves most of it for a book on the Lilliput he is writing. He wants to see the imperial palace, but can’t do it, because the gate is too small, while the wall, on the other hand, too high (five feet) for him to cross it without damaging it. He has to put it off until the next visit, and in the meantime by the emperor’s permission he cuts some of the biggest trees in one of his forests and makes two stools for himself, with the help of which he is able to cross the wall safely. He can peep inside the emperor’s rooms and kiss the empress’s hand.

Two weeks after Gulliver is set free, he is visited a man called Reldresal, a high -ranking official who wants to keep him on the down-low regarding Lilliput politics. He tells him Gulliver wouldn’t have got his liberty so soon had it not been for the two dangers, internal and external. The external one is the already mentioned threat of an invasion from Blefuscu, and the internal is the faction strife between two parties, distinguishing themselves by high heels and low heels, which is obviously an allusion to the Tories and Whigs.