Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

Gulliver says he tried to present his beloved country in the best light possible, but the King, having lived all his life isolated from Europe, just didn’t get it. For instance, when Gulliver offers to make gunpowder for him and describes to him rather graphically the results of its use in warfare, the King is shocked and refuses. It’s his “narrow principles” and “short views”, as Gulliver says, and Swift pointedly puts these words in italics, to show he is being ironic. To be honest, the King would have to be a power-mad tyrant to desire gunpowder, since there are no external enemies ever mentioned in the text, and he is universally beloved by his own people, so whom should he bomb? The King also doesn’t understand when Gulliver boasts there are several thousand treatises on politics, because he hates all intrigue and thinks somebody who can make two ears of corn grow on the spot where previously there was only one, is of greater use than all the political scientists in the world. The branches of learning practised in this country are poetry, history, morality and mathematics, but only the applied one; they have no time for abstract musings.

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Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

The King laughs at Gulliver’s way of estimating his country’s population, that is by summing up the estimated number of the members of every denomination. He can see no reason why people who “entertain opinions prejudicial to the public” should be obliged to change them or not obliged to hide them, just like you are allowed to keep poisons in your closet but not to add them to other people’s food. I guess this is just included so Swift can express his idea of toleration, which is a kind of a variation on “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Since Gulliver tells them that one of the nobility’s favourite pastime is gambling, he asks whether it does not lead to corruption, which is of course a rhetorical questions. He is horrified by Gulliver’s summary of the last century or so of England’s history. At the end, he takes him into his hand, and stroking him gently, he says that much as Gulliver tried, he can see that his country is thoroughly corrupt. Since Gulliver spent so much of his life travelling, he can hope he is better than most of his countrymen who he considers “to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

Gulliver during five meetings gives the King a detailed and very rosy picture of Britain: the Lords are the members of the noblest families, educated since childhood to help the monarch rule the country, the Bishops are selected carefully among the most pious of the clergy, the Commons are men chosen freely by the people themselves among the best and the judiciary branch is full of the wisest people. The King listens carefully and takes notes, and then asks Gulliver a lot of questions. I would basically have to copy them all, so I’ll just summarize. They are obviously Swift’s own misgivings and it’s not very probable that somebody who was a total stranger to British culture and society would come up with them all. In short: how are the Lords educated, what happens when a noble family dies out and aren’t the new lords created through bribery or secret influence? Are the Members of the House of Commons always the best candidates and not those able to pay most? And if you are not paid anything as an MP (as it was the case until 1911), why go to all the trouble and expense of getting elected, if not expecting to get paid back by other, less legal means? Don’t lawyers sometime argue on both sides of the question and sometimes in cases known as manifestly wrong? (Swift seems to have this rather naive approach to law, believing that “you just can tell” right from wrong and that’s enough in a court case.) Are the Bishops always the most pious clergyman, and just those who had the support of the most powerful noblemen? And how can a country spend twice as much as it gets in taxes? And what is the point of having a standing army in time of peace and among free people? (Swift, like other Tories, was critical of standing army, which was then illegal unless authorized by Parliament.) Can’t a man better defend himself his house and family than a dozen rascals picked at random?

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

Gulliver relates how he made himself a comb out of the shavings of the King’s beard and two tiny chairs out of the Queen’s hair (given to him by the maid who combed her). But while he used the comb, he gave the chairs as a present to the Queen and refused to disgrace her hair by sitting on them, even on her request. He also made a purse out of the same hair and gave it to Glumdalclitch, but it’s more for show, because it was too delicate to carry even the smallest coins, so Glumdalclitch kept just some of her trinkets there. He was taken to concerts but found the music too loud, and only when he had his box removed to the farthest part (he doesn’t specify – the room or the palace?) and closed all his windows and door, then he could hear the tunes beyond the noise. He tried to play an English tune for the King and Queen on Glumdalclitch’s spinet, but he had to make himself two cudgels covered with mouse skin, climb a special bench along the keyboard and by running to and fro and pressing the keys with his cudgels, he was able to play a tune, but it was only like something picked out on the keyboard with one finger, because obviously he couldn’t play bass and treble at the same time. But then we get to more serious stuff, when Gulliver relates his conversations with the King. It began one day, when he tried to explain to the King that he shouldn’t look down on his country because people there are small. It’s a well-known fact that the tallest people are not always the smartest, and tiny animals like bees and ants are more organized and industrious than many big ones. Very well, then, says the King, tell me about your country’s achievements.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

The monkey leaves Gulliver on the roof and scampers off, and Gulliver sits there in mortal fear of being blown down by the wind any time until a servant climbs up the ladder and carries him down. After that Glumdalclitch has to pick out delicately with a needle the monkey’s food from Gulliver’s mouth, he throws up and feels much better. But he is still so bruised he has to spend two weeks in bed, and the King and Queen  are very concerned, send messages inquiring about his health etc. This does not stop the King, when Gulliver finally is able to go to see him, from teasing him a lot and asking him whether it could happen to him in his own country. Gulliver answers, trying to look very imposing, that first of all, in his country monkeys (the ones which are brought as pets) are much smaller, and he could take twelve of them at one time. But if he had thought more clearly, he would have defended himself with his sword when the monkey first tried to put his hand into his house, and that would have taught him. This, however, doesn’t impress the King or his retinue, because they laugh a lot. Gulliver ends this with a moralistic remark about how often he saw contemptible people in England trying to do the same thing, that is to look important in the company of those high above them. In general, Glumdalclitch and other people at the court love him, but they also can’t stop themselves from laughing at him, and even Glumdalclitch is guilty of telling the stories of Gulliver’s misadventures when she thinks they would amuse the Queen, like for instance when she went with Gulliver to the country, and during a walk he tried to leap over a cowpie, but missed with predictable results.

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

We get another dose of body horror/sex when Gulliver describes how the maids disrobe in front of him, pee, and one even likes to put him on her nipple and do other things which for decency’s sake he won’t describe. All of that sounds like a more disturbing version of this Anita Ekberg fantasy from Boccaccio ’70, except that Gulliver describes how disgusting these giantesses are, with hairs growing out of their moles as thick as packing thread etc. Finally he asks Glumdalclitch not to take him there anymore. I think it’s very revealing that right after this we get another disturbing description of a public execution, with blood streams going higher up than the tallest fountains in Versailles.

The Queen asks Gulliver whether he likes sailing, and he says yes, but he can’t imagine practising it safely in this country. So she orders for him a special custom-made tiny boat. The King initially puts it in a cistern, but it’s too small, so the Queen orders a special trough, put in one of the outer rooms, where Gulliver can row or sail thanks to the wind given to him by ladies’ fans or pages blowing into his sails. One time he almost fell down when Glumdalclitch’s governess took him up to put him in the boat and he slipped through her fingers, but fortunately he got stuck on one of the pins in her dress. Another adventure he had was when a servant filling up the trough didn’t notice a frog in his bucket. The frog then jumped onto Gulliver’s boat, but Gulliver asked others not to help him and he fought it off on his own with an oar. But the most dangerous adventure he had was when on a warm day, Glumdalclitch left him in her room with the window open, and the pet monkey belonging to one of the kitchen boys went through the window, saw Gulliver in his house-box and kidnapped him. Gulliver thinks he (that’s the pronoun he uses) considered him a young of his own species, because he held him to his breast and tried to feed him with the food he had in his mouth. The monkey runs away with Gulliver to the top of the house. People gather, some of them laughing, and Gulliver says he can’t blame them, because although the situation was dangerous for him, it must have looked also ridiculous. What is going to happen?

Jonathan Swift – “Gulliver’s Travels” Part 2 (ctd.)

This chapter starts with Gulliver describing his various adventures in the palace garden. Once he provoked the dwarf by comparing him to a dwarf apple tree, which said tree then the dwarf started to shake and one of its apples knocked Gulliver down. But he asked not to punish the dwarf because he provoked him. Another time, when Glumdalclitch left him on a lawn, suddenly it started to hail and he was badly bruised by the hailstones, which are like everything in this country, proportionately bigger. He had many accidents like that, which happened to him when he asked Glumdalclitch to give him some alone time, and which he hid from her: once he was almost snatched by a kite, another time he fell halfway into a mole hill, and yet another time he broke his shin when he tripped on a snail shell (I don’t think he could hide that). But one day the gardener’s spaniel snatched him and carried him to his owner. Fortunately the dog was trained not to maul its prey and he just caught Gulliver gently between his jaws. The kind gardener carried Gulliver back but by this time Glumdalclitch noticed his disappearance and was besides herself. After that, she decided never to let Gulliver out of her sight. This was all charming and a bit like adventures of a fairy-tale dwarf, until Gulliver describes how he once killed a linnet. Well, he couldn’t exactly kill it, the linnet being as big as a swan, but he stunned it and then carried it to a servant who broke his neck. Gulliver had the poor bird next day for dinner. The tale takes a decidedly disturbing turn when Gulliver describes how the Queen’s Maids of Honour liked to undress him and put him on his bosoms, which, however, inspires him not with lust but disgust, because he cannot stand their smell. He hedges it with the assurances that surely they were perfectly nice-smelling to other people of their own size and it’s only Gulliver’s more acute sense of smell that conveyed this unpleasant odor. He remembers that a Lilliput friend also criticised his smell once when Gulliver had a “good deal of exercise”. (I am not a Lilliput and I don’t enjoy the smell of exercising men, either.) Anyway, the natural smell of these giantesses is still preferable to their perfume, which makes Gulliver swoon. But the Queen and Glumdalclitch were always perfectly sweet-smelling.