Gulliver in Brobdingnag

Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is a peculiar travel novel,  books about journeys were quite popular at the time as they were often used by their authors to convey their philosophical theories, they also allowed the authors to portray to their readers imaginary worlds and non-corrupt ideal societies. In this case, Swift overturns the so far traditional scheme and sets the protagonist, Lemuel Gulliver, who Swift describes as a typical middle class English man, in places that are meant to exemplify European civilization’s downfall.

It consists of four books, each representing a different place visited by the  ship’s physician and illustrated by maps to support the idea that they are in fact actual places existing in reality.

The excerpt that is here presented is taken from Book two and sees Gulliver in a country called Brobdingnag, identified by Swift as Alaska, where locals are giants twelve times bigger than our hero.

The Queen of this land has become fond of Gulliver and takes him everywhere, therefore she orders her cabinet-maker to build a box that can be used as Gulliver’s bedroom so that she can carry him with her everywhere she goes.

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” […] The room was quilted on all sides, as well as the floor and ceiling, to prevent any accident from the carelessness of those who carried me, and to break the force of a jolt when I went in a coach. I desired a lock for my door, to prevent rats and mice from coming in: the smith, after several attempts, made the smallest that ever was seen among them; for I have known a larger at the gate of a gentleman’s house in England. I made a shift to keep the key in a pocket of my own, fear Glumdalclitch might lose it. The Queen likewise ordered the thinnest silks that could be gotten to make me clothes, not much thicker than an English blanket, very cumbersome till I was accustomed to them. They were after the fashion of the Kingdom, partly resembling the Persian, and partly the Chinese, and are very grave and decent habit.

[…] the King and Queen, with the royal issue of both sexes, dine together in the apartment of his Majesty, to whom I was now become a great favourite; and at these times my little chair and table were placed at his left hand before one of the salt-cellars. The prince took a pleasure in conversing with me, inquiring into the manners, religion, laws, government, and Learning of Europe, wherein I gave him the best account I was able. His apprehension was so clear, and his judgement so exact, that he made very wise reflections and observations upon all I said. But, I confess that, after I had been a little too copious in talking of my own beloved country, of our trade, and wars by sea and land, of our schisms in religion and parties in the State, the prejudices of his education prevailed so far, that he could not forbear taking me up in his right hand, and stroking me gently with the other, after an hearty fit of laughing, asking me whether I was a Whig or Tory. Then turning to his first minister, who waited behind him with a white staff, near as tall as the mainmast of the Royal Sovereign, he observed how contemptible a thing was human grandeur, which could be mimicked by such diminutive insects as I: And yet, said he, I dare engage, these creatures have their titles and distinctions of honour; they contrive little nests and burrows, that they love, they fight, they dispute, they cheat, they betray. And thus he continued on, while my colour came and went several times, with indignation to hear our noble country, the Mistress of Arts and arms, the Scourge of France, the Arbitress of Europe, the Seat of Virtue, Piety, Honour, and Truth, the Pride and Envy of the World, so contemptuously treated.

But as I was not in a condition to resent injuries, so, upon mature thoughts, I began to doubt whether I was injured or no. For, after having been accustomed several months to the sight and converse of this people, and observed every object upon which I cast mine eyes to be of proportionable magnitued, the horror I had at first conceived from their bulk and aspect was so far worn off, that if I had then beheld a company of English Lords and Ladies in their finery and birthday clothes, acting their several parts in the most courtly manner, of strutting and bowing and practicing; to say the truth, I should have been strongly tempted to laugh as much at them as the King and his grandees did at me.”

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