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?

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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.

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

Gulliver wants very much to see the main temple and its tower, which is the tallest building in the kingdom, but returns disappointed. Even though the tower is 3,000 foot high (so taller than in our world Burj Khalifa), when he compares it with the average height of its constructors, it’s relatively shorter than the steeple of the Salisbury Cathedral, the tallest church steeple in England. But it’s impressive in its beauty and strength, and richly decorated with statues of gods and emperors. Gulliver finds in the rubble a finger of one of these statues, over four foot long, and gives it to Glumdalclitch, who adds it to her collection of trinkets. The kitchen in the King’s palace is appropriately huge, with the oven only slightly smaller than the dome of St Paul’s, but here Gulliver breaks off, saying that he could be accused of exaggerating, and if his narrative were translated in the language of Brobdignag (this is the first time he mentions their name), these people could take offence at diminishing them. The chapter ends with admiring remark about what a fine sight is to see the King on special occasions attended by a militia guard of five hundred horses, the view which was only surpassed when Gulliver had a chance to see a part of the King’s army in battle array.

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

Gulliver describes the country, which is appropriately large, located on a peninsula attached (judging by his description) to America somewhere in the neighbourhood of north-western Canada. This side of country is protected by huge mountains with volcanos, and on all three others it is surrounded by very rocky waters and rough sea, which explains why nobody in Europe knows about it, although Gulliver has always believed that there must be a huge landmass in the Pacific to counterbalance “the great continent of Tartary”. If he means Russia or Asia, then he didn’t look at the globe very carefully, because it’s actually Europe that is on the other side of the globe from the Pacific Ocean. The sea travel is for these reasons impossible, but there is a lot of traffic on the rivers. They also don’t eat sea fish, not only because it’s too dangerous to sail around their peninsula, but also because the sea fish in the surrounding waters are regular size, so too small to bother. Sometimes they eat a beached whale, which an adult man can carry on its shoulder, although with difficulty. Gulliver describes the capital and we get a bit of body horror when he describes how, when once they stopped by a shop, they were accosted by some beggars, all with disgusting and appropriately large wounds and tumours, and ridden with huge lice. Gulliver wishes he could dissect one of these insects, but unfortunately he left his medical tools on his ship. At this point I remembered with a jolt that Gulliver is supposedly a surgeon and for a surgeon, especially an 18-th c. one, he is surprisingly squeamish.

Gulliver travelled a lot with the Queen and he had a special box made for these occasions, smaller than his regular one, with staples on one of its walls, so that a servant can put his belt through them and carry him on horseback, if Glumdalclitch is not around or if Gulliver wants to have some fresh air. When visiting towns, Glumdalclitch carries his box on her lap and she herself is carried in turn in an open sedan chair, where Gulliver often attracts people’s attention.

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

After a moment of reflection, Gulliver realizes he should not take offence about the King’s remarks. He himself, once he got accustomed to it, started to perceive the giants as normal and himself as diminutive, especially when the Queen stood with him on her hand in front of a mirror. If he now saw English courtiers in their finery, bowing and scraping, he would probably laugh as heartily as the king. During his stay in the palace he came in conflict with the Queen’s dwars, who at thirty foot high was up to this point the smallest human in the kingdom. The dwarf found strange satisfaction in the fact that Gulliver is even smaller than him and they often teased each other. Once during dinner he stuck Gulliver in a hollow marrow bone, and it took some time before anyone noticed, because Gulliver was too proud to cry out for help. But, as Gulliver observes, since princes rarely get their meals hot (because they have to travel such a long way from the kitchen?), it didn’t hurt him, just ruined his trousers. Another time, being made angry by something Gulliver said, he threw him in a bowl of cream. Fortunately Gulliver was a good swimmer, because Glumdalclitch was then at the other end of the room, and the Queen too frightened to be of use. Glumdalclitch came running and rescued Gulliver, so there was no harm done except for his ruined clothes. The dwarf was made to drink the whole bowl of cream into which he threw Gulliver and then he was whipped. Soon after that the Queen gave him to another lady. Another trick he liked to play on Gulliver before he was dismissed was to catch a number of flies and then release him just in front of his face. The Queen likes to make fun of Gulliver and ask him whether everyone in his country is such a coward, but of course like everything else, the flies are proportionately larger, and Gulliver hates it when they leave their excrement and eggs on his food, which he can see. He defends himself by cutting them in half with his knife in the air (not veyr hygienic), for which he is much admired. Once when Gludalclitch left his box on the window to give him some fresh air and Gulliver was enjoying his cake for breakfast, he was attacked by some wasps as big as partridges. They stole his cake and would attack him, but he managed to defend himself with his sword. He took out the stings of the killed ones, each an inch and a half long. He brought them with him to England and after exhibiting them, he gifted three of them to the Gresham College (the original meeting place of the Royal Society), leaving one for himself.