Gulliver's travels; an account of the four voyages into several remote regions of the world

by Jonathan Swift

Other authorsJacques Barzun (Introduction), Luis Quintanilla (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1947




New York, Crown Publishers [1947]


The voyages of an Englishman carry him to such strange places as Lilliput, where people are six inches tall; Brobdingnag, a land of giants; and a country ruled by horses.

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LibraryThing member gbill
Published in 1725, six years after Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and interesting as a counterpoint to that book. Both are of course travel adventures, but while Crusoe has only Friday for company on his island, Gulliver runs into civilizations on the ones he reaches in his four voyages, starting with
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the diminutive Lilliputians who so famously tie him down. And while both authors use their stories as vehicles to explore human nature, Defoe is generally optimistic, but Swift is not.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Swift’s world view, since he was an enemy of the enlightenment, disdained reason as well as challenges to established religion, such as Deism, and was presenting a pessimistic view of humanity. However, I have to say his novel works, and on several levels. It is a biting satire of man and all his follies, vices, and stupidities. Swift has particular disdain for politicians, lawyers, and clergymen. It’s also filled with comic moments, some naughty, some juvenile involving bodily functions, but entertaining nonetheless. And, for the computer-minded, it’s of course the origin of the Big and Little Endians, as well as the Yahoos. :)

Gulliver’s misadventures worsen as the novel progresses, and his attitude is progressively hardened by the experiences of being abandoned and attacked. Perhaps a danger for us all. If I had to recommend one of the many essays that are included in this Norton Critical Edition, it would be Samuel Holt Monk’s ‘The Pride of Lemuel Gulliver’ from 1955, insightful and with an interesting reference to the Red Scare going on in Washington D.C. at the time. The edition was published in 1961 which was a little limiting; it would have been nice to have some more recent commentary.

On Children:
“...the Lilliputians will needs have it, that men and women are joined together like other animals, by the motives of concupiscence; and that their tenderness towards their young, proceedeth from the like natural principle: for which reason they will never allow, that a child is under any obligation to his father for begetting him, or to his mother for bringing him into the world; which, considering the miseries of human life, was neither a benefit in itself, nor intended so by his parents, whose thoughts in their love-encounters were otherwise employed.”

On the good and evil in man:
“When I thought of my family, my friends, my countrymen, or human race in general, I considered them as they really were, yahoos in shape and disposition, perhaps a little more civilized, and qualified with the gift of speech; but making no other use of reason, than to improve and multiply those vices, whereof their brethren in this country had only the share that nature allotted them.”

On guns:
“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 groveling 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.”

On history:
“He was perfectly astonished with the historical account I 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.”

On immortality:
“...he observed long life to be the universal desire and wish of mankind. That, whoever had one foot in the grave, was sure to hold back the other as strongly as he could. That the oldest still had hopes of living one day longer, and looked on death as the greatest evil, from which nature always prompted him to retreat; only in this Island of Luggnagg, the appetite for living was not so eager, from the continual example of the Struldbruggs before their eyes.
That the system of living contrived by me was unreasonable and unjust, because it supposed a perpetuity of youth, health, and vigor, which no man could be so foolish to hope, however extravagant he might be in his wishes. That, the question therefore was not whether a man would choose to be always in the prime of youth, attended with prosperity and health; but how he would pass a perpetual life under all the usual disadvantages which old age brings along with it.”

On lawyers:
“I said there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves. ...
It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly. ...
It is likewise to be observed, that this society hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field, left me by my ancestors for six generations, belongs to me, or to a stranger three hundred miles off.”

On man’s inhumanity:
“A crew of pirates are driven by a storm they know not whither; at length a boy discovers land from the top-mast; they go on shore to rob and plunder; they see a harmless people, are entertained with kindness, they give the country a new name, they take formal possession of it for the King, they set up rotten plank or stone for a memorial, they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force for a sample, return home, and get their pardon. Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by Divine Right. Ships are sent with their first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed, their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people.”

On politics:
“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.”

On the poor:
“...the Lilliputians think nothing can be more unjust, than that people, in subservience to their own appetites, should bring children into the world, and leave the burden of supporting them on the public.”

On war:
“Sometimes the quarrel between two princes is to decide which of them shall dispossess a third of his dominions, where neither of them pretend to any right. ...
For these reasons, the trade of a soldier is held the most honorable of all others: because a soldier is a yahoo hired to kill in cold blood as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can. ...
I gave him a description of cannons, culverins, muskets, carabines, pistols, bullets, powder, swords, bayonets, battles, sieges, retreats, attacks, undermines, countermines, bombardments, sea-fights; ship sunk with a thousand men; twenty thousand killed on each side; dying groans, limbs flying in the air: smoke, noise, confusion, trampling to death under horses feet: flight, pursuit, victory; fields strewed with carcasses left for food to dogs, and wolves, and birds of prey; plundering, stripping, ravishing, burning and destroying. ...
Although he hated the yahoos of this country, yet he no more blamed them for their odious qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a bird of prey) for its cruelty, or a sharp stone for cutting his hoof. But, when a creature pretending to reason, could be capable of such enormities, he dreaded lest the corruption of that faculty might be worse than brutality itself. He seemed therefore confident, that instead of reason, we were only possessed of some quality fitted to increase our natural vices...”

On the younger generation:
“As every person called up [from the dead] made exactly the same appearance he had done in the world, it gave me melancholy reflections to observe how much the race of human kind was degenerate among us, within these hundred years past. How the pox under all its consequences and denominations had altered every lineament of an English countenance; shortened the size of bodies, unbraced the nerves, relaxed the sinews and muscles, introduced a sallow complexion, and rendered the flesh loose and rancid.”
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LibraryThing member stipe168
gulliver is a hero you can really cheer for, swift's excellent writing shows quite simply the defects of the human race. it's not hard to understand if you read it.
LibraryThing member FKarr
point of reference for Bradbury; begins comic, but the satire of life among the Houhnhyms is too sharp even for Swift
LibraryThing member willowcove
If you've not read this because it's a "children's book," you really got to read it.....NOT a children's book. Delightfully surprising.



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