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Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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[The author's love of his country. He makes a proposal of much
advantage to the king, which is rejected. The king's great
ignorance in politics. The learning of that country very
imperfect and confined. The laws, and military affairs, and
parties in the state.]

Nothing but an extreme love of truth could have hindered me from
concealing this part of my story. It was in vain to discover my
resentments, which were always turned into ridicule; and I was
forced to rest with patience, while my noble and beloved country
was so injuriously treated. I am as heartily sorry as any of my
readers can possibly be, that such an occasion was given: but
this prince happened to be so curious and inquisitive upon every
particular, that it could not consist either with gratitude or
good manners, to refuse giving him what satisfaction I was able.
Yet thus much I may be allowed to say in my own vindication, that
I artfully eluded many of his questions, and gave to every point
a more favourable turn, by many degrees, than the strictness of
truth would allow. For I have always borne that laudable
partiality to my own country, which Dionysius Halicarnassensis,
with so much justice, recommends to an historian: I would hide
the frailties and deformities of my political mother, and place
her virtues and beauties in the most advantageous light. This
was my sincere endeavour in those many discourses I had with that
monarch, although it unfortunately failed of success.

But great allowances should be given to a king, who lives wholly
secluded from the rest of the world, and must therefore be
altogether unacquainted with the manners and customs that most
prevail in other nations: the want of which knowledge will ever
produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking,
from which we, and the politer countries of Europe, are wholly
exempted. And it would be hard indeed, if so remote a prince's
notions of virtue and vice were to be offered as a standard for
all mankind.

To confirm what I have now said, and further to show the
miserable effects of a confined education, I shall here insert a
passage, which will hardly obtain belief. In hopes to ingratiate
myself further into his majesty's favour, I told him of "an
invention, discovered between three and four hundred years ago,
to make a certain powder, into a heap of which, the smallest
spark of fire falling, would kindle the whole in a moment,
although it were as big as a mountain, and make it all fly up in
the air together, with a noise and agitation greater than
thunder. That a proper quantity of this powder rammed into a
hollow tube of brass or iron, according to its bigness, would
drive a ball of iron or lead, with such violence and speed, as
nothing was able to sustain its force. That the largest balls
thus discharged, would not only destroy whole ranks of an army at
once, but batter the strongest walls to the ground, sink down
ships, with a thousand men in each, to the bottom of the sea, and
when linked together by a chain, would cut through masts and
rigging, divide hundreds of bodies in the middle, and lay all
waste before them. That we often put this powder into large
hollow balls of iron, and discharged them by an engine into some
city we were besieging, which would rip up the pavements, tear
the houses to pieces, burst and throw splinters on every side,
dashing out the brains of all who came near. That I knew the
ingredients very well, which were cheap and common; I understood
the manner of compounding them, and could direct his workmen how
to make those tubes, of a size proportionable to all other things
in his majesty's kingdom, and the largest need not be above a
hundred feet long; twenty or thirty of which tubes, charged with
the proper quantity of powder and balls, would batter down the
walls of the strongest town in his dominions in a few hours, or
destroy the whole metropolis, if ever it should pretend to
dispute his absolute commands." This I humbly offered to his
majesty, as a small tribute of acknowledgment, in turn for so
many marks that I had received, of his royal favour and

The king was struck with horror at the description I had given of
those terrible engines, and the proposal I had made. "He was
amazed, how so impotent and grovelling an insect as I" (these
were his expressions) "could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in
so familiar a manner, as to appear wholly unmoved at all the
scenes of blood and desolation which I had painted as the common
effects of those destructive machines; whereof," he said, "some
evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first
contriver. As for himself, he protested, that although few
things delighted him so much as new discoveries in art or in
nature, yet he would rather lose half his kingdom, than be privy
to such a secret; which he commanded me, as I valued any life,
never to mention any more."

A strange effect of narrow principles and views! that a prince
possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and
esteem; of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning,
endowed with admirable talents, and almost adored by his
subjects, should, from a nice, unnecessary scruple, whereof in
Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity put
into his hands that would have made him absolute master of the
lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people! Neither do
I say this, with the least intention to detract from the many
virtues of that excellent king, whose character, I am sensible,
will, on this account, be very much lessened in the opinion of an
English reader: but I take this defect among them to have risen
from their ignorance, by not having hitherto reduced politics
into a science, as the more acute wits of Europe have done. For,
I remember very well, in a discourse one day with the king, when
I happened to say, "there were several thousand books among us
written upon the art of government," it gave him (directly
contrary to my intention) a very mean opinion of our
understandings. He professed both to abominate and despise all
mystery, refinement, and intrigue, either in a prince or a
minister. He could not tell what I meant by secrets of state,
where an enemy, or some rival nation, were not in the case. He
confined the knowledge of governing within very narrow bounds, to
common sense and reason, to justice and lenity, to the speedy
determination of civil and criminal causes; with some other
obvious topics, which are not worth considering. And he gave it
for his opinion, "that whoever could make two ears of corn, or
two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one
grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more
essential service to his country, than the whole race of
politicians put together."

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in
morality, history, poetry, and mathematics, wherein they must be
allowed to excel. But the last of these is wholly applied to
what may be useful in life, to the improvement of agriculture,
and all mechanical arts; so that among us, it would be little
esteemed. And as to ideas, entities, abstractions, and
transcendentals, I could never drive the least conception into
their heads.

No law in that country must exceed in words the number of letters
in their alphabet, which consists only of two and twenty. But
indeed few of them extend even to that length. They are
expressed in the most plain and simple terms, wherein those
people are not mercurial enough to discover above one
interpretation: and to write a comment upon any law, is a
capital crime. As to the decision of civil causes, or
proceedings against criminals, their precedents are so few, that
they have little reason to boast of any extraordinary skill in

They have had the art of printing, as well as the Chinese, time
out of mind: but their libraries are not very large; for that of
the king, which is reckoned the largest, does not amount to above
a thousand volumes, placed in a gallery of twelve hundred feet
long, whence I had liberty to borrow what books I pleased. The
queen's joiner had contrived in one of Glumdalclitch's rooms, a
kind of wooden machine five-and-twenty feet high, formed like a
standing ladder; the steps were each fifty feet long. It was
indeed a moveable pair of stairs, the lowest end placed at ten
feet distance from the wall of the chamber. The book I had a
mind to read, was put up leaning against the wall: I first
mounted to the upper step of the ladder, and turning my face
towards the book, began at the top of the page, and so walking to
the right and left about eight or ten paces, according to the
length of the lines, till I had gotten a little below the level
of mine eyes, and then descending gradually till I came to the
bottom: after which I mounted again, and began the other page in
the same manner, and so turned over the leaf, which I could
easily do with both my hands, for it was as thick and stiff as a
pasteboard, and in the largest folios not above eighteen or
twenty feet long.

Their style is clear, masculine, and smooth, but not florid; for
they avoid nothing more than multiplying unnecessary words, or
using various expressions. I have perused many of their books,
especially those in history and morality. Among the rest, I was
much diverted with a little old treatise, which always lay in
Glumdalclitch's bed chamber, and belonged to her governess, a
grave elderly gentlewoman, who dealt in writings of morality and
devotion. The book treats of the weakness of human kind, and is
in little esteem, except among the women and the vulgar.
However, I was curious to see what an author of that country
could say upon such a subject. This writer went through all the
usual topics of European moralists, showing "how diminutive,
contemptible, and helpless an animal was man in his own nature;
how unable to defend himself from inclemencies of the air, or the
fury of wild beasts: how much he was excelled by one creature in
strength, by another in speed, by a third in foresight, by a
fourth in industry." He added, "that nature was degenerated in
these latter declining ages of the world, and could now produce
only small abortive births, in comparison of those in ancient
times." He said "it was very reasonable to think, not only that
the species of men were originally much larger, but also that
there must have been giants in former ages; which, as it is
asserted by history and tradition, so it has been confirmed by
huge bones and skulls, casually dug up in several parts of the
kingdom, far exceeding the common dwindled race of men in our
days." He argued, "that the very laws of nature absolutely
required we should have been made, in the beginning of a size
more large and robust; not so liable to destruction from every
little accident, of a tile falling from a house, or a stone cast
from the hand of a boy, or being drowned in a little brook."
From this way of reasoning, the author drew several moral
applications, useful in the conduct of life, but needless here to
repeat. For my own part, I could not avoid reflecting how
universally this talent was spread, of drawing lectures in
morality, or indeed rather matter of discontent and repining,
from the quarrels we raise with nature. And I believe, upon a
strict inquiry, those quarrels might be shown as ill-grounded
among us as they are among that people.

As to their military affairs, they boast that the king's army
consists of a hundred and seventy-six thousand foot, and
thirty-two thousand horse: if that may be called an army, which
is made up of tradesmen in the several cities, and farmers in the
country, whose commanders are only the nobility and gentry,
without pay or reward. They are indeed perfect enough in their
exercises, and under very good discipline, wherein I saw no great
merit; for how should it be otherwise, where every farmer is
under the command of his own landlord, and every citizen under
that of the principal men in his own city, chosen after the
manner of Venice, by ballot?

I have often seen the militia of Lorbrulgrud drawn out to
exercise, in a great field near the city of twenty miles square.
They were in all not above twenty-five thousand foot, and six
thousand horse; but it was impossible for me to compute their
number, considering the space of ground they took up. A
cavalier, mounted on a large steed, might be about ninety feet
high. I have seen this whole body of horse, upon a word of
command, draw their swords at once, and brandish them in the air.

Imagination can figure nothing so grand, so surprising, and so
astonishing! it looked as if ten thousand flashes of lightning
were darting at the same time from every quarter of the sky.

I was curious to know how this prince, to whose dominions there
is no access from any other country, came to think of armies, or
to teach his people the practice of military discipline. But I
was soon informed, both by conversation and reading their
histories; for, in the course of many ages, they have been
troubled with the same disease to which the whole race of mankind
is subject; the nobility often contending for power, the people
for liberty, and the king for absolute dominion. All which,
however happily tempered by the laws of that kingdom, have been
sometimes violated by each of the three parties, and have more
than once occasioned civil wars; the last whereof was happily put
an end to by this prince's grand-father, in a general
composition; and the militia, then settled with common consent,
has been ever since kept in the strictest duty.



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