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Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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[The humours and dispositions of the Laputians described. An
account of their learning. Of the king and his court. The
author's reception there. The inhabitants subject to fear and
disquietudes. An account of the women.]

Ay my alighting, I was surrounded with a crowd of people, but
those who stood nearest seemed to be of better quality. They
beheld me with all the marks and circumstances of wonder; neither
indeed was I much in their debt, having never till then seen a
race of mortals so singular in their shapes, habits, and
countenances. Their heads were all reclined, either to the
right, or the left; one of their eyes turned inward, and the
other directly up to the zenith. Their outward garments were
adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars; interwoven
with those of fiddles, flutes, harps, trumpets, guitars,
harpsichords, and many other instruments of music, unknown to us
in Europe. I observed, here and there, many in the habit of
servants, with a blown bladder, fastened like a flail to the end
of a stick, which they carried in their hands. In each bladder
was a small quantity of dried peas, or little pebbles, as I was
afterwards informed. With these bladders, they now and then
flapped the mouths and ears of those who stood near them, of
which practice I could not then conceive the meaning. It seems
the minds of these people are so taken up with intense
speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the
discourses of others, without being roused by some external
taction upon the organs of speech and hearing; for which reason,
those persons who are able to afford it always keep a flapper
(the original is CLIMENOLE) in their family, as one of their
domestics; nor ever walk abroad, or make visits, without him.
And the business of this officer is, when two, three, or more
persons are in company, gently to strike with his bladder the
mouth of him who is to speak, and the right ear of him or them to
whom the speaker addresses himself. This flapper is likewise
employed diligently to attend his master in his walks, and upon
occasion to give him a soft flap on his eyes; because he is
always so wrapped up in cogitation, that he is in manifest danger
of falling down every precipice, and bouncing his head against
every post; and in the streets, of justling others, or being
justled himself into the kennel.

It was necessary to give the reader this information, without
which he would be at the same loss with me to understand the
proceedings of these people, as they conducted me up the stairs
to the top of the island, and from thence to the royal palace.
While we were ascending, they forgot several times what they were
about, and left me to myself, till their memories were again
roused by their flappers; for they appeared altogether unmoved by
the sight of my foreign habit and countenance, and by the shouts
of the vulgar, whose thoughts and minds were more disengaged.

At last we entered the palace, and proceeded into the chamber of
presence, where I saw the king seated on his throne, attended on
each side by persons of prime quality. Before the throne, was a
large table filled with globes and spheres, and mathematical
instruments of all kinds. His majesty took not the least notice
of us, although our entrance was not without sufficient noise, by
the concourse of all persons belonging to the court. But he was
then deep in a problem; and we attended at least an hour, before
he could solve it. There stood by him, on each side, a young
page with flaps in their hands, and when they saw he was at
leisure, one of them gently struck his mouth, and the other his
right ear; at which he startled like one awaked on the sudden,
and looking towards me and the company I was in, recollected the
occasion of our coming, whereof he had been informed before. He
spoke some words, whereupon immediately a young man with a flap
came up to my side, and flapped me gently on the right ear; but I
made signs, as well as I could, that I had no occasion for such
an instrument; which, as I afterwards found, gave his majesty,
and the whole court, a very mean opinion of my understanding.
The king, as far as I could conjecture, asked me several
questions, and I addressed myself to him in all the languages I
had. When it was found I could neither understand nor be
understood, I was conducted by his order to an apartment in his
palace (this prince being distinguished above all his
predecessors for his hospitality to strangers), where two
servants were appointed to attend me. My dinner was brought, and
four persons of quality, whom I remembered to have seen very near
the king's person, did me the honour to dine with me. We had two
courses, of three dishes each. In the first course, there was a
shoulder of mutton cut into an equilateral triangle, a piece of
beef into a rhomboides, and a pudding into a cycloid. The second
course was two ducks trussed up in the form of fiddles; sausages
and puddings resembling flutes and hautboys, and a breast of veal
in the shape of a harp. The servants cut our bread into cones,
cylinders, parallelograms, and several other mathematical figures.

While we were at dinner, I made bold to ask the names of several
things in their language, and those noble persons, by the
assistance of their flappers, delighted to give me answers,
hoping to raise my admiration of their great abilities if I could
be brought to converse with them. I was soon able to call for
bread and drink, or whatever else I wanted.

After dinner my company withdrew, and a person was sent to me by
the king's order, attended by a flapper. He brought with him
pen, ink, and paper, and three or four books, giving me to
understand by signs, that he was sent to teach me the language.
We sat together four hours, in which time I wrote down a great
number of words in columns, with the translations over against
them; I likewise made a shift to learn several short sentences;
for my tutor would order one of my servants to fetch something,
to turn about, to make a bow, to sit, or to stand, or walk, and
the like. Then I took down the sentence in writing. He showed
me also, in one of his books, the figures of the sun, moon, and
stars, the zodiac, the tropics, and polar circles, together with
the denominations of many plains and solids. He gave me the
names and descriptions of all the musical instruments, and the
general terms of art in playing on each of them. After he had
left me, I placed all my words, with their interpretations, in
alphabetical order. And thus, in a few days, by the help of a
very faithful memory, I got some insight into their language.
The word, which I interpret the flying or floating island, is in
the original LAPUTA, whereof I could never learn the true
etymology. LAP, in the old obsolete language, signifies high;
and UNTUH, a governor; from which they say, by corruption, was
derived LAPUTA, from LAPUNTUH. But I do not approve of this
derivation, which seems to be a little strained. I ventured to
offer to the learned among them a conjecture of my own, that
Laputa was QUASI LAP OUTED; LAP, signifying properly, the dancing
of the sunbeams in the sea, and OUTED, a wing; which, however, I
shall not obtrude, but submit to the judicious reader.

Those to whom the king had entrusted me, observing how ill I was
clad, ordered a tailor to come next morning, and take measure for
a suit of clothes. This operator did his office after a
different manner from those of his trade in Europe. He first
took my altitude by a quadrant, and then, with a rule and
compasses, described the dimensions and outlines of my whole
body, all which he entered upon paper; and in six days brought my
clothes very ill made, and quite out of shape, by happening to
mistake a figure in the calculation. But my comfort was, that I
observed such accidents very frequent, and little regarded.

During my confinement for want of clothes, and by an
indisposition that held me some days longer, I much enlarged my
dictionary; and when I went next to court, was able to understand
many things the king spoke, and to return him some kind of
answers. His majesty had given orders, that the island should
move north-east and by east, to the vertical point over Lagado,
the metropolis of the whole kingdom below, upon the firm earth.
It was about ninety leagues distant, and our voyage lasted four
days and a half. I was not in the least sensible of the
progressive motion made in the air by the island. On the second
morning, about eleven o'clock, the king himself in person,
attended by his nobility, courtiers, and officers, having
prepared all their musical instruments, played on them for three
hours without intermission, so that I was quite stunned with the
noise; neither could I possibly guess the meaning, till my tutor
informed me. He said that, the people of their island had their
ears adapted to hear "the music of the spheres, which always
played at certain periods, and the court was now prepared to bear
their part, in whatever instrument they most excelled."

In our journey towards Lagado, the capital city, his majesty
ordered that the island should stop over certain towns and
villages, from whence he might receive the petitions of his
subjects. And to this purpose, several packthreads were let
down, with small weights at the bottom. On these packthreads the
people strung their petitions, which mounted up directly, like
the scraps of paper fastened by school boys at the end of the
string that holds their kite. Sometimes we received wine and
victuals from below, which were drawn up by pulleys.

The knowledge I had in mathematics, gave me great assistance in
acquiring their phraseology, which depended much upon that
science, and music; and in the latter I was not unskilled. Their
ideas are perpetually conversant in lines and figures. If they
would, for example, praise the beauty of a woman, or any other
animal, they describe it by rhombs, circles, parallelograms,
ellipses, and other geometrical terms, or by words of art drawn
from music, needless here to repeat. I observed in the king's
kitchen all sorts of mathematical and musical instruments, after
the figures of which they cut up the joints that were served to
his majesty's table.

Their houses are very ill built, the walls bevil, without one
right angle in any apartment; and this defect arises from the
contempt they bear to practical geometry, which they despise as
vulgar and mechanic; those instructions they give being too
refined for the intellects of their workmen, which occasions
perpetual mistakes. And although they are dexterous enough upon a
piece of paper, in the management of the rule, the pencil, and
the divider, yet in the common actions and behaviour of life, I
have not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy people, nor so
slow and perplexed in their conceptions upon all other subjects,
except those of mathematics and music. They are very bad
reasoners, and vehemently given to opposition, unless when they
happen to be of the right opinion, which is seldom their case.
Imagination, fancy, and invention, they are wholly strangers to,
nor have any words in their language, by which those ideas can be
expressed; the whole compass of their thoughts and mind being
shut up within the two forementioned sciences.

Most of them, and especially those who deal in the astronomical
part, have great faith in judicial astrology, although they are
ashamed to own it publicly. But what I chiefly admired, and
thought altogether unaccountable, was the strong disposition I
observed in them towards news and politics, perpetually inquiring
into public affairs, giving their judgments in matters of state,
and passionately disputing every inch of a party opinion. I have
indeed observed the same disposition among most of the
mathematicians I have known in Europe, although I could never
discover the least analogy between the two sciences; unless those
people suppose, that because the smallest circle has as many
degrees as the largest, therefore the regulation and management
of the world require no more abilities than the handling and
turning of a globe; but I rather take this quality to spring from
a very common infirmity of human nature, inclining us to be most
curious and conceited in matters where we have least concern, and
for which we are least adapted by study or nature.

These people are under continual disquietudes, never enjoying a
minutes peace of mind; and their disturbances proceed from causes
which very little affect the rest of mortals. Their
apprehensions arise from several changes they dread in the
celestial bodies: for instance, that the earth, by the continual
approaches of the sun towards it, must, in course of time, be
absorbed, or swallowed up; that the face of the sun, will, by
degrees, be encrusted with its own effluvia, and give no more
light to the world; that the earth very narrowly escaped a brush
from the tail of the last comet, which would have infallibly
reduced it to ashes; and that the next, which they have
calculated for one-and-thirty years hence, will probably destroy
us. For if, in its perihelion, it should approach within a
certain degree of the sun (as by their calculations they have
reason to dread) it will receive a degree of heat ten thousand
times more intense than that of red hot glowing iron, and in its
absence from the sun, carry a blazing tail ten hundred thousand
and fourteen miles long, through which, if the earth should pass
at the distance of one hundred thousand miles from the nucleus,
or main body of the comet, it must in its passage be set on fire,
and reduced to ashes: that the sun, daily spending its rays
without any nutriment to supply them, will at last be wholly
consumed and annihilated; which must be attended with the
destruction of this earth, and of all the planets that receive
their light from it.

They are so perpetually alarmed with the apprehensions of these,
and the like impending dangers, that they can neither sleep
quietly in their beds, nor have any relish for the common
pleasures and amusements of life. When they meet an acquaintance
in the morning, the first question is about the sun's health, how
he looked at his setting and rising, and what hopes they have to
avoid the stroke of the approaching comet. This conversation
they are apt to run into with the same temper that boys discover
in delighting to hear terrible stories of spirits and hobgoblins,
which they greedily listen to, and dare not go to bed for fear.

The women of the island have abundance of vivacity: they,
contemn their husbands, and are exceedingly fond of strangers,
whereof there is always a considerable number from the continent
below, attending at court, either upon affairs of the several
towns and corporations, or their own particular occasions, but
are much despised, because they want the same endowments. Among
these the ladies choose their gallants: but the vexation is,
that they act with too much ease and security; for the husband is
always so rapt in speculation, that the mistress and lover may
proceed to the greatest familiarities before his face, if he be
but provided with paper and implements, and without his flapper
at his side.

The wives and daughters lament their confinement to the island,
although I think it the most delicious spot of ground in the
world; and although they live here in the greatest plenty and
magnificence, and are allowed to do whatever they please, they
long to see the world, and take the diversions of the metropolis,
which they are not allowed to do without a particular license
from the king; and this is not easy to be obtained, because the
people of quality have found, by frequent experience, how hard it
is to persuade their women to return from below. I was told that
a great court lady, who had several children,--is married to the
prime minister, the richest subject in the kingdom, a very
graceful person, extremely fond of her, and lives in the finest
palace of the island,--went down to Lagado on the pretence of
health, there hid herself for several months, till the king sent
a warrant to search for her; and she was found in an obscure
eating-house all in rags, having pawned her clothes to maintain
an old deformed footman, who beat her every day, and in whose
company she was taken, much against her will. And although her
husband received her with all possible kindness, and without the
least reproach, she soon after contrived to steal down again,
with all her jewels, to the same gallant, and has not been heard
of since.

This may perhaps pass with the reader rather for an European or
English story, than for one of a country so remote. But he may
please to consider, that the caprices of womankind are not
limited by any climate or nation, and that they are much more
uniform, than can be easily imagined.

In about a month's time, I had made a tolerable proficiency in
their language, and was able to answer most of the king's
questions, when I had the honour to attend him. His majesty
discovered not the least curiosity to inquire into the laws,
government, history, religion, or manners of the countries where
I had been; but confined his questions to the state of mathematics,
and received the account I gave him with great contempt and
indifference, though often roused by his flapper on each side.



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