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| Home | Reading Room Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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[A phenomenon solved by modern philosophy and astronomy.
The Laputians' great improvements in the latter. The king's method
of suppressing insurrections.]

I desired leave of this prince to see the curiosities of the
island, which he was graciously pleased to grant, and ordered my
tutor to attend me. I chiefly wanted to know, to what cause, in
art or in nature, it owed its several motions, whereof I will now
give a philosophical account to the reader.

The flying or floating island is exactly circular, its diameter
7837 yards, or about four miles and a half, and consequently
contains ten thousand acres. It is three hundred yards thick.
The bottom, or under surface, which appears to those who view it
below, is one even regular plate of adamant, shooting up to the
height of about two hundred yards. Above it lie the several
minerals in their usual order, and over all is a coat of rich
mould, ten or twelve feet deep. The declivity of the upper
surface, from the circumference to the centre, is the natural
cause why all the dews and rains, which fall upon the island, are
conveyed in small rivulets toward the middle, where they are
emptied into four large basins, each of about half a mile in
circuit, and two hundred yards distant from the centre. From
these basins the water is continually exhaled by the sun in the
daytime, which effectually prevents their overflowing. Besides,
as it is in the power of the monarch to raise the island above
the region of clouds and vapours, he can prevent the falling of
dews and rain whenever he pleases. For the highest clouds cannot
rise above two miles, as naturalists agree, at least they were
never known to do so in that country.

At the centre of the island there is a chasm about fifty yards in
diameter, whence the astronomers descend into a large dome, which
is therefore called FLANDONA GAGNOLE, or the astronomer's cave,
situated at the depth of a hundred yards beneath the upper
surface of the adamant. In this cave are twenty lamps
continually burning, which, from the reflection of the adamant,
cast a strong light into every part. The place is stored with
great variety of sextants, quadrants, telescopes, astrolabes, and
other astronomical instruments. But the greatest curiosity, upon
which the fate of the island depends, is a loadstone of a
prodigious size, in shape resembling a weaver's shuttle. It is
in length six yards, and in the thickest part at least three
yards over. This magnet is sustained by a very strong axle of
adamant passing through its middle, upon which it plays, and is
poised so exactly that the weakest hand can turn it. It is
hooped round with a hollow cylinder of adamant, four feet yards
in diameter, placed horizontally, and supported by eight
adamantine feet, each six yards high. In the middle of the
concave side, there is a groove twelve inches deep, in which the
extremities of the axle are lodged, and turned round as there is

The stone cannot be removed from its place by any force, because
the hoop and its feet are one continued piece with that body of
adamant which constitutes the bottom of the island.

By means of this loadstone, the island is made to rise and fall,
and move from one place to another. For, with respect to that
part of the earth over which the monarch presides, the stone is
endued at one of its sides with an attractive power, and at the
other with a repulsive. Upon placing the magnet erect, with its
attracting end towards the earth, the island descends; but when
the repelling extremity points downwards, the island mounts
directly upwards. When the position of the stone is oblique, the
motion of the island is so too: for in this magnet, the forces
always act in lines parallel to its direction.

By this oblique motion, the island is conveyed to different parts
of the monarch's dominions. To explain the manner of its
progress, let A B represent a line drawn across the dominions of
Balnibarbi, let the line C D represent the loadstone, of which
let D be the repelling end, and C the attracting end, the island
being over C: let the stone be placed in position C D, with its
repelling end downwards; then the island will be driven upwards
obliquely towards D. When it is arrived at D, let the stone be
turned upon its axle, till its attracting end points towards E,
and then the island will be carried obliquely towards E; where,
if the stone be again turned upon its axle till it stands in the
position E F, with its repelling point downwards, the island will
rise obliquely towards F, where, by directing the attracting end
towards G, the island may be carried to G, and from G to H, by
turning the stone, so as to make its repelling extremity to point
directly downward. And thus, by changing the situation of the
stone, as often as there is occasion, the island is made to rise
and fall by turns in an oblique direction, and by those alternate
risings and fallings (the obliquity being not considerable) is
conveyed from one part of the dominions to the other.

But it must be observed, that this island cannot move beyond the
extent of the dominions below, nor can it rise above the height
of four miles. For which the astronomers (who have written large
systems concerning the stone) assign the following reason: that
the magnetic virtue does not extend beyond the distance of four
miles, and that the mineral, which acts upon the stone in the
bowels of the earth, and in the sea about six leagues distant
from the shore, is not diffused through the whole globe, but
terminated with the limits of the king's dominions; and it was
easy, from the great advantage of such a superior situation, for
a prince to bring under his obedience whatever country lay within
the attraction of that magnet.

When the stone is put parallel to the plane of the horizon, the
island stands still; for in that case the extremities of it,
being at equal distance from the earth, act with equal force, the
one in drawing downwards, the other in pushing upwards, and
consequently no motion can ensue.

This loadstone is under the care of certain astronomers, who,
from time to time, give it such positions as the monarch directs.

They spend the greatest part of their lives in observing the
celestial bodies, which they do by the assistance of glasses, far
excelling ours in goodness. For, although their largest
telescopes do not exceed three feet, they magnify much more than
those of a hundred with us, and show the stars with greater
clearness. This advantage has enabled them to extend their
discoveries much further than our astronomers in Europe; for they
have made a catalogue of ten thousand fixed stars, whereas the
largest of ours do not contain above one third part of that
number. They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or
satellites, which revolve about Mars; whereof the innermost is
distant from the centre of the primary planet exactly three of
his diameters, and the outermost, five; the former revolves in
the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one and a half;
so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in
the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the
centre of Mars; which evidently shows them to be governed by the
same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies.

They have observed ninety-three different comets, and settled
their periods with great exactness. If this be true (and they
affirm it with great confidence) it is much to be wished, that
their observations were made public, whereby the theory of
comets, which at present is very lame and defective, might be
brought to the same perfection with other arts of astronomy.

The king would be the most absolute prince in the universe, if he
could but prevail on a ministry to join with him; but these
having their estates below on the continent, and considering that
the office of a favourite has a very uncertain tenure, would
never consent to the enslaving of their country.

If any town should engage in rebellion or mutiny, fall into
violent factions, or refuse to pay the usual tribute, the king
has two methods of reducing them to obedience. The first and the
mildest course is, by keeping the island hovering over such a
town, and the lands about it, whereby he can deprive them of the
benefit of the sun and the rain, and consequently afflict the
inhabitants with dearth and diseases: and if the crime deserve
it, they are at the same time pelted from above with great
stones, against which they have no defence but by creeping into
cellars or caves, while the roofs of their houses are beaten to
pieces. But if they still continue obstinate, or offer to raise
insurrections, he proceeds to the last remedy, by letting the
island drop directly upon their heads, which makes a universal
destruction both of houses and men. However, this is an extremity
to which the prince is seldom driven, neither indeed is he
willing to put it in execution; nor dare his ministers advise him
to an action, which, as it would render them odious to the
people, so it would be a great damage to their own estates, which
all lie below; for the island is the king's demesne.

But there is still indeed a more weighty reason, why the kings of
this country have been always averse from executing so terrible
an action, unless upon the utmost necessity. For, if the town
intended to be destroyed should have in it any tall rocks, as it
generally falls out in the larger cities, a situation probably
chosen at first with a view to prevent such a catastrophe; or if
it abound in high spires, or pillars of stone, a sudden fall
might endanger the bottom or under surface of the island, which,
although it consist, as I have said, of one entire adamant, two
hundred yards thick, might happen to crack by too great a shock,
or burst by approaching too near the fires from the houses below,
as the backs, both of iron and stone, will often do in our
chimneys. Of all this the people are well apprised, and
understand how far to carry their obstinacy, where their liberty
or property is concerned. And the king, when he is highest
provoked, and most determined to press a city to rubbish, orders
the island to descend with great gentleness, out of a pretence of
tenderness to his people, but, indeed, for fear of breaking the
adamantine bottom; in which case, it is the opinion of all their
philosophers, that the loadstone could no longer hold it up, and
the whole mass would fall to the ground.

By a fundamental law of this realm, neither the king, nor either
of his two eldest sons, are permitted to leave the island; nor
the queen, till she is past child-bearing.



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