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| Home | Reading Room Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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[Several contrivances of the author to please the king and queen.
He shows his skill in music. The king inquires into the state of
England, which the author relates to him. The king's
observations thereon.]

I used to attend the king's levee once or twice a week, and had
often seen him under the barber's hand, which indeed was at first
very terrible to behold; for the razor was almost twice as long
as an ordinary scythe. His majesty, according to the custom of
the country, was only shaved twice a-week. I once prevailed on
the barber to give me some of the suds or lather, out of which I
picked forty or fifty of the strongest stumps of hair. I then
took a piece of fine wood, and cut it like the back of a comb,
making several holes in it at equal distances with as small a
needle as I could get from Glumdalclitch. I fixed in the stumps
so artificially, scraping and sloping them with my knife toward
the points, that I made a very tolerable comb; which was a
seasonable supply, my own being so much broken in the teeth, that
it was almost useless: neither did I know any artist in that
country so nice and exact, as would undertake to make me another.

And this puts me in mind of an amusement, wherein I spent many of
my leisure hours. I desired the queen's woman to save for me the
combings of her majesty's hair, whereof in time I got a good
quantity; and consulting with my friend the cabinet-maker, who
had received general orders to do little jobs for me, I directed
him to make two chair-frames, no larger than those I had in my
box, and to bore little holes with a fine awl, round those parts
where I designed the backs and seats; through these holes I wove
the strongest hairs I could pick out, just after the manner of
cane chairs in England. When they were finished, I made a
present of them to her majesty; who kept them in her cabinet, and
used to show them for curiosities, as indeed they were the wonder
of every one that beheld them. The queen would have me sit upon
one of these chairs, but I absolutely refused to obey her,
protesting I would rather die than place a dishonourable part of
my body on those precious hairs, that once adorned her majesty's
head. Of these hairs (as I had always a mechanical genius) I
likewise made a neat little purse, about five feet long, with her
majesty's name deciphered in gold letters, which I gave to
Glumdalclitch, by the queen's consent. To say the truth, it was
more for show than use, being not of strength to bear the weight
of the larger coins, and therefore she kept nothing in it but
some little toys that girls are fond of.

The king, who delighted in music, had frequent concerts at court,
to which I was sometimes carried, and set in my box on a table to
hear them: but the noise was so great that I could hardly
distinguish the tunes. I am confident that all the drums and
trumpets of a royal army, beating and sounding together just at
your ears, could not equal it. My practice was to have my box
removed from the place where the performers sat, as far as I
could, then to shut the doors and windows of it, and draw the
window curtains; after which I found their music not

I had learned in my youth to play a little upon the spinet.
Glumdalclitch kept one in her chamber, and a master attended
twice a-week to teach her: I called it a spinet, because it
somewhat resembled that instrument, and was played upon in the
same manner. A fancy came into my head, that I would entertain
the king and queen with an English tune upon this instrument.
But this appeared extremely difficult: for the spinet was near
sixty feet long, each key being almost a foot wide, so that with
my arms extended I could not reach to above five keys, and to
press them down required a good smart stroke with my fist, which
would be too great a labour, and to no purpose. The method I
contrived was this: I prepared two round sticks, about the
bigness of common cudgels; they were thicker at one end than the
other, and I covered the thicker ends with pieces of a mouse's
skin, that by rapping on them I might neither damage the tops of
the keys nor interrupt the sound. Before the spinet a bench was
placed, about four feet below the keys, and I was put upon the
bench. I ran sideling upon it, that way and this, as fast as I
could, banging the proper keys with my two sticks, and made a
shift to play a jig, to the great satisfaction of both their
majesties; but it was the most violent exercise I ever underwent;
and yet I could not strike above sixteen keys, nor consequently
play the bass and treble together, as other artists do; which was
a great disadvantage to my performance.

The king, who, as I before observed, was a prince of excellent
understanding, would frequently order that I should be brought in
my box, and set upon the table in his closet: he would then
command me to bring one of my chairs out of the box, and sit down
within three yards distance upon the top of the cabinet, which
brought me almost to a level with his face. In this manner I had
several conversations with him. I one day took the freedom to
tell his majesty, "that the contempt he discovered towards
Europe, and the rest of the world, did not seem answerable to
those excellent qualities of mind that he was master of; that
reason did not extend itself with the bulk of the body; on the
contrary, we observed in our country, that the tallest persons
were usually the least provided with it; that among other
animals, bees and ants had the reputation of more industry, art,
and sagacity, than many of the larger kinds; and that, as
inconsiderable as he took me to be, I hoped I might live to do
his majesty some signal service." The king heard me with
attention, and began to conceive a much better opinion of me than
he had ever before. He desired "I would give him as exact an
account of the government of England as I possibly could;
because, as fond as princes commonly are of their own customs
(for so he conjectured of other monarchs, by my former
discourses), he should be glad to hear of any thing that might
deserve imitation."

Imagine with thyself, courteous reader, how often I then wished
for the tongue of Demosthenes or Cicero, that might have enabled
me to celebrate the praise of my own dear native country in a
style equal to its merits and felicity.

I began my discourse by informing his majesty, that our dominions
consisted of two islands, which composed three mighty kingdoms,
under one sovereign, beside our plantations in America. I dwelt
long upon the fertility of our soil, and the temperature of our
climate. I then spoke at large upon the constitution of an
English parliament; partly made up of an illustrious body called
the House of Peers; persons of the noblest blood, and of the most
ancient and ample patrimonies. I described that extraordinary
care always taken of their education in arts and arms, to qualify
them for being counsellors both to the king and kingdom; to have
a share in the legislature; to be members of the highest court of
judicature, whence there can be no appeal; and to be champions
always ready for the defence of their prince and country, by
their valour, conduct, and fidelity. That these were the
ornament and bulwark of the kingdom, worthy followers of their
most renowned ancestors, whose honour had been the reward of
their virtue, from which their posterity were never once known to
degenerate. To these were joined several holy persons, as part
of that assembly, under the title of bishops, whose peculiar
business is to take care of religion, and of those who instruct
the people therein. These were searched and sought out through
the whole nation, by the prince and his wisest counsellors, among
such of the priesthood as were most deservedly distinguished by
the sanctity of their lives, and the depth of their erudition;
who were indeed the spiritual fathers of the clergy and the people.

That the other part of the parliament consisted of an assembly
called the House of Commons, who were all principal gentlemen,
freely picked and culled out by the people themselves, for their
great abilities and love of their country, to represent the
wisdom of the whole nation. And that these two bodies made up
the most august assembly in Europe; to whom, in conjunction with
the prince, the whole legislature is committed.

I then descended to the courts of justice; over which the judges,
those venerable sages and interpreters of the law, presided, for
determining the disputed rights and properties of men, as well as
for the punishment of vice and protection of innocence. I
mentioned the prudent management of our treasury; the valour and
achievements of our forces, by sea and land. I computed the
number of our people, by reckoning how many millions there might
be of each religious sect, or political party among us. I did
not omit even our sports and pastimes, or any other particular
which I thought might redound to the honour of my country. And I
finished all with a brief historical account of affairs and
events in England for about a hundred years past.

This conversation was not ended under five audiences, each of
several hours; and the king heard the whole with great attention,
frequently taking notes of what I spoke, as well as memorandums
of what questions he intended to ask me.

When I had put an end to these long discources, his majesty, in a
sixth audience, consulting his notes, proposed many doubts,
queries, and objections, upon every article. He asked, "What
methods were used to cultivate the minds and bodies of our young
nobility, and in what kind of business they commonly spent the
first and teachable parts of their lives? What course was taken
to supply that assembly, when any noble family became extinct?
What qualifications were necessary in those who are to be created
new lords: whether the humour of the prince, a sum of money to a
court lady, or a design of strengthening a party opposite to the
public interest, ever happened to be the motive in those
advancements? What share of knowledge these lords had in the laws
of their country, and how they came by it, so as to enable them
to decide the properties of their fellow-subjects in the last
resort? Whether they were always so free from avarice,
partialities, or want, that a bribe, or some other sinister view,
could have no place among them? Whether those holy lords I spoke
of were always promoted to that rank upon account of their
knowledge in religious matters, and the sanctity of their lives;
had never been compliers with the times, while they were common
priests; or slavish prostitute chaplains to some nobleman, whose
opinions they continued servilely to follow, after they were
admitted into that assembly?"

He then desired to know, "What arts were practised in electing
those whom I called commoners: whether a stranger, with a strong
purse, might not influence the vulgar voters to choose him before
their own landlord, or the most considerable gentleman in the
neighbourhood? How it came to pass, that people were so
violently bent upon getting into this assembly, which I allowed
to be a great trouble and expense, often to the ruin of their
families, without any salary or pension? because this appeared
such an exalted strain of virtue and public spirit, that his
majesty seemed to doubt it might possibly not be always sincere."

And he desired to know, "Whether such zealous gentlemen could
have any views of refunding themselves for the charges and
trouble they were at by sacrificing the public good to the
designs of a weak and vicious prince, in conjunction with a
corrupted ministry?" He multiplied his questions, and sifted me
thoroughly upon every part of this head, proposing numberless
inquiries and objections, which I think it not prudent or
convenient to repeat.

Upon what I said in relation to our courts of justice, his
majesty desired to be satisfied in several points: and this I
was the better able to do, having been formerly almost ruined by
a long suit in chancery, which was decreed for me with costs. He
asked, "What time was usually spent in determining between right
and wrong, and what degree of expense? Whether advocates and
orators had liberty to plead in causes manifestly known to be
unjust, vexatious, or oppressive? Whether party, in religion or
politics, were observed to be of any weight in the scale of
justice? Whether those pleading orators were persons educated in
the general knowledge of equity, or only in provincial, national,
and other local customs? Whether they or their judges had any
part in penning those laws, which they assumed the liberty of
interpreting, and glossing upon at their pleasure? Whether they
had ever, at different times, pleaded for and against the same
cause, and cited precedents to prove contrary opinions? Whether
they were a rich or a poor corporation? Whether they received
any pecuniary reward for pleading, or delivering their opinions?
And particularly, whether they were ever admitted as members in
the lower senate?"

He fell next upon the management of our treasury; and said, "he
thought my memory had failed me, because I computed our taxes at
about five or six millions a-year, and when I came to mention the
issues, he found they sometimes amounted to more than double; for
the notes he had taken were very particular in this point,
because he hoped, as he told me, that the knowledge of our
conduct might be useful to him, and he could not be deceived in
his calculations. But, if what I told him were true, he was still
at a loss how a kingdom could run out of its estate, like a
private person." He asked me, "who were our creditors; and where
we found money to pay them?" He wondered to hear me talk of such
chargeable and expensive wars; "that certainly we must be a
quarrelsome people, or live among very bad neighbours, and that
our generals must needs be richer than our kings." He asked,
what business we had out of our own islands, unless upon the
score of trade, or treaty, or to defend the coasts with our
fleet?" Above all, he was amazed to hear me talk of a mercenary
standing army, in the midst of peace, and among a free people.
He said, "if we were governed by our own consent, in the persons
of our representatives, he could not imagine of whom we were
afraid, or against whom we were to fight; and would hear my
opinion, whether a private man's house might not be better
defended by himself, his children, and family, than by
half-a-dozen rascals, picked up at a venture in the streets for
small wages, who might get a hundred times more by cutting their

He laughed at my "odd kind of arithmetic," as he was pleased to
call it, "in reckoning the numbers of our people, by a
computation drawn from the several sects among us, in religion
and politics." He said, "he knew no reason why those, who
entertain opinions prejudicial to the public, 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: for a man may be allowed to
keep poisons in his closet, but not to vend them about for cordials."

He observed, "that among the diversions of our nobility and
gentry, I had mentioned gaming: he desired to know at what age
this entertainment was usually taken up, and when it was laid
down; how much of their time it employed; whether it ever went so
high as to affect their fortunes; whether mean, vicious people,
by their dexterity in that art, might not arrive at great riches,
and sometimes keep our very nobles in dependence, as well as
habituate them to vile companions, wholly take them from the
improvement of their minds, and force them, by the losses they
received, to learn and practise that infamous dexterity upon

He was perfectly astonished with the historical account gave him
of our affairs during the last century; protesting "it was only a
heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres,
revolutions, banishments, the very worst effects that avarice,
faction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness,
hatred, envy, lust, malice, and ambition, could produce."

His majesty, in another audience, was at the pains to
recapitulate the sum of all I had spoken; compared the questions
he made with the answers I had given; then taking me into his
hands, and stroking me gently, delivered himself in these words,
which I shall never forget, nor the manner he spoke them in: "My
little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric
upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance,
idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a
legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and
applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting,
confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of
an institution, which, in its original, might have been
tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and
blotted by corruptions. It does not appear, from all you have
said, how any one perfection is required toward the procurement
of any one station among you; much less, that men are ennobled on
account of their virtue; that priests are advanced for their
piety or learning; soldiers, for their conduct or valour; judges,
for their integrity; senators, for the love of their country; or
counsellors for their wisdom. As for yourself," continued the
king, "who have spent the greatest part of your life in
travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have
escaped many vices of your country. But by what I have gathered
from your own relation, and the answers I have with much pains
wrung and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the bulk of
your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin
that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."



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