Gulliver’s Travels Endnotes

Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput

1 (p. 5) A Letter from Capt. Gulliver to His Cousin Sympson: This letter and the other material before the table of contents was added to Gulliver’s Travels for the 1735 Dublin edition of Swift’s Complete Works.

2 (p. 28) Hekinah degul: Phrases from the many made-up languages of Gulliver’s Travels have been a fertile ground for scholars’ guessing games, though they are rarely decoded to the satisfaction of all. Anagrams and homonyms play large roles in the fragmented systems put forward; in the absence of certainty, readers are free to speculate about the meanings of such words.

3 (p. 35) The Emperor: In the loose political allegory of the first voyage, the Emperor has qualities that link him to the Hanoverian George I, king of England from 1714 to 1727, though the events of the adventure combine moments from the last four years of the reign of Queen Anne and the first year of George‘s—that is, roughly 1710—1715.

4 (p. 37) High and Low Dutch … Lingua Franca: High and low Dutch are modern German and modern Dutch, respectively. Lingua Franca was a mixture of Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic spoken in Mediterranean seaports and along trade lanes on the continent.

5 . (p. 38) the Emperor held frequent councils to debate what course should be taken with me…. through the whole kingdom: This paragraph takes up the problems of a standing army in England during nominal peacetime. Gulliver represents the burden required to support such a force on a continual basis, an issue to which Swift returned again and again in his historical writing. He was strongly opposed to standing armies, both as an infringement of national liberty and as a drain on national resources.

6 (p. 44) This diversion is only practised by those persons who are candidates for great employments, and high favour, at court: Swift parodies the excesses of what he took to be sycophantic behavior among those seeking preferment in the court of the Hanoverian kings or the ministries of the Whig dispensation under Walpole and the Earl of Stanhope.

7 (p. 47) He desired I would stand like a colossus, with my legs as far asunder as I conveniently could: The immediate reference is to the statue of Helios in the harbor at Rhodes (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), but Swift may have recalled Cassius’s comment about Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (act 1, scene 2): “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs and peep about / To find ourselves dishonourable graves.”

8 (p. 53) there have been two struggling parties in the empire, under the names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan: Allegorically, the Tory and Whig parties in England, which were generally affiliated with the High Church (Anglican) and Low Church (dissenting sects), respectively.

9 (p. 54) we are threatened with an invasion from the island of Blefuscu: Many in early Hanoverian England worried about the resumption of the War of the Spanish Succession on the continent and threats at home of a Jacobite rebellion to reseat the Stuart pretender then living in France.

10 . (p. 54) the primitive way of breaking eggs before we eat them, was upon the larger end; …. the Emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects . . . to break the smaller end of their eggs: The Big-Endians are Catholics and the Little-Endians Protestants. The allegory covers the break from Catholicism during and after the reign (1509—1547) of Henry VIII. The long-running politics of religious controversy included among its victims two Stuart kings: Charles I, beheaded in 1649, and James II, deposed in 1688.

11 (p. 55) … and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments: The Test Act of 1673 barred any but those who subscribed to a test of loyalty to the principles of Anglican worship from holding state office. The act applied both to Catholics and to members of the dissenting Protestant sects in England.

12 (p. 56) I communicated to his Majesty a project I had formed of seizing the enemy’s whole fleet; which, as our scouts assured us, lay at anchor in the harbour ready to sail with the first fair wind: Gulliver’s project to hijack the Blefuscudian fleet plays out allegorically the moderate Tory policy during the War of the Spanish Succession in the last years of Queen Anne’s reign. Swift’s employers Harley and Bolingbroke believed that British naval dominance was more important than military prominence on the continent. Their secret efforts to negotiate a deal with the French to end the war struck some as close to Jacobitism and resulted in charges brought against them for high treason in 1715.

13 (pp. 57—58) The Blefuscudians … were at first confounded with astonishment…. I waded through the middle with my cargo, and arrived safe at the royal port of Lilliput: The allegory suggests that England (Lilliput) benefited most by following its naval strategy, but the controversy over who gained most from the Treaties of Utrecht (1713—1714) that ended the War of the Spanish Succession led to the eventual demise of the Tory ministries of Harley and Bolingbroke and the semi-exile of Swift, as chief Tory propagandist, to Ireland.

14 (pp. 60—62) I was alarmed at midnight with the cries of many hundred people at my door; … And I was privately assured, that the Empress . . . could not forbear vowing revenge: The allegory surrounding this episode is uncertain. Generally it calls to mind the ingratitude of the Queen to her ministers and especially the somewhat difficult relationship an oft-drunken Robert Harley had with the fastidious Queen Anne.

15 (p. 71) a considerable person at court: The allegorical reference is possibly to the Duke of Marlborough, military hero of the War of the Spanish Succession; he was helpful in arranging for Bolingbroke’s exile to France after charges were handed down against him for treason in 1715.

16 (p. 72) This lord, in conjunction with Flimnap the High Treasurer, … have prepared articles of impeachment against you, for treason, and other capital crimes: Robert Walpole headed a Committee of Secrecy that drafted charges against Harley and Bolingbroke for acts portrayed as seditious while they were negotiating secretly with French representatives during the War of the Spanish Succession. Harley was impeached and imprisoned; Bolingbroke escaped into exile in France.

Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag

1 (p. 90) The ship lay very broad off…. kept her full and by as near as she would lie: Much of this writing is an imitation of the nautical language common to travel literature; it is an almost direct lift by Swift from an issue of Samuel Sturmy’s Mariners Magazine.

2 (p. 101) The word imports what the Latins call nanunculus, the Italians homunceletino, and the English mannikin: Gulliver presents himself here and elsewhere as something of an expert on etymology, but his expertise is part of Swift’s satire on modern linguistics. Here Gulliver complicates the Latin word nanus (“dwarf”) and makes the Latin homunculus (“little man” or “mannikin”) into nonsense Italian.

3 . (p. 102) what an indignity I should conceive it to be exposed for money as a public spectacle to the meanest of the people: Exhibiting oddities and freaks was a common practice in eighteenth-century England and Europe. Traveling families of midgets were often exhibited in scaled-down environmental tableaux carried on carts.

4 . (p. 117) much better than . . . through a microscope: The microscope was a seventeenth-century invention of immense importance to scientific research under the auspices of the Royal Society. Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) contains extraordinary plates of his renderings of microscopic observations of the kind to which Gulliver alludes.

5 . (p. 135) our generals must needs be richer than our kings: At least one general, the Duke of Marlborough, probably was. He amassed riches enough from the War of the Spanish Succession to build magnificent Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, the seat of the Churchill family.

6 (p. 135) he was amazed to hear me talk of a mercenary standing army in the midst of peace: Swift wrote often and vociferously against the policy of maintaining a standing army in England, a practice forbidden by the Bill of Rights in 1689. The Hanoverian king, George I, still had an army of mercenary retainers in Germany, and many of the English were none too ready to have those merce naries imported to England’s shores.

7 (p. 141) 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: Throughout the Travels Swift comments on a long-ranging dispute between proponents of ancient versus modern learning and science. He addressed the matter head on in his Battle of the Books (1704) and A Tale of a Tub (1704), and generally he sympathized with the ancient position that in physical size, ethical integrity, and humanistic resources the past superceded the present. But for Swift the dispute was really not resolvable; it was more fertile ground for satire than for argument.

Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan

1 (p. 162) Their outward garments were adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars, interwoven with those of fiddles, flutes … and many more instruments of music, unknown to us in Europe: Astrology, music, and mathematics become part of the satire on modernity in the voyage to Laputa. Swift here plays on the speculative metaphor of the music of the spheres.

2 (p. 167) These people are under continual disquietudes…. Their apprehensions arise from several changes they dread in the celestial bodies: Early eighteenth-century astronomers and physicists had a much better idea than previous scientists of the universe as a changing entity, including various scenarios of doom based on cometary collisions. The doomsayers were perhaps more worrisome in the early eighteenth century because their calculations did not foresee the billions of years of life left for the present universe, as later predicted by modern astronomers and physicists.

3 . (p. 170) I will now give a philosophical account: “Philosophical” here refers to natural science. The following paragraph parodies the style of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the journal that records the experiments, speculative essays, epistolary exchanges, and formal papers of the Royal Society.

4 . (p. 175) About three years before my arrival among them: The next four paragraphs of text were cut from the early editions of Gulliver’s Travels and first appeared in print in 1899. The narrative allegorizes the controversy that arose when Walpole’s government extended a patent to a man named Wood to debase the Irish coinage by devaluing the copper content of the half-penny. Swift was vociferous in his opposition to the scheme, and his Drapier’s Letters (1724) were instrumental in quashing its enactment.

5 (p. 176) in case their design should fail, they had provided a vast quantity of the most combustible fuel: The fuel here may well be Swift’s Drapier’s Letters, which in 1724 were sufficiently incendiary to worry the English government. Walpole’s regime put out a warrant for the arrest of the author, and even though the authorities and everyone else knew Swift had written them, no arrest or charges of sedition materialized. Walpole chose retreat and discretion, and finally abandoned the coinage scheme as unworkable.

6 (p. 179) This great lord, whose name was Munodi: The name means one who holds the world in contempt. Munodi seems to be a composite of Swift’s former patrons Harley and Bolingbroke, though the name could be given to any man of commendable values that are no longer welcome in a less-principled world.

7 (pp. 181—182) these persons . . . began to dislike the management of every thing below, and fell into schemes of putting all arts, sciences, languages, and mechanics upon a new foot…. erecting an academy of Projectors in Lagado: The reference is to the Royal Society, founded in 1662. Projectors are speculative scientists, inventors, and social and political schemers. Much of Swift’s material in the following pages parodies or even cribs from some of the wilder projects recorded in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

8 (p. 187) The first professor I saw was in a very large room…. the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down: The proliferation of printing in the early eighteenth century went hand in hand with attempts to distribute and disseminate knowledge, one of the later hallmarks of the Enlightenment in Europe. Swift’s satire here suggests that such proliferation lets loose a great deal of potential nonsense as well.

9 . (p. 188) We next went to the school of languages, where three professors sat in consultation upon improving that of their own country: One of the primary agendas of the members of the Royal Society in England was to reduce the many figurative encumbrances of language that made conveying simple information difficult. Thomas Sprat and others argued for a reformation of prose style to accommodate science. Swift set out his own idea on the matter in Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712).

10 (p. 194) in the kingdom of Tribnia, by the natives called Langden: “Tribnia” and “Langden” are anagrams of “Britain” and “England,” so we can read this as “in the kingdom of Britain, by the natives called England,” a clue that Gulliver may be a more circumscribed traveler than he lets on or that the reader assumes.

11 (p. 194) It is first agreed and settled among them what suspected persons shall be accused of a plot: then effectual care is taken to secure all their letters and other papers, and put the owners in chains: In 1722 Swift’s friend Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, was accused of conspiring with the Stuart pretender to the English crown when papers in code were discovered in his close-stool (stool holding a chamber pot).

12 (p. 199) I had the honour to have much conversation with Brutus … to which all the ages of the world cannot add a seventh: Junius Brutus is a sixth-century b.c. ancestor of the Brutus who assassinated Julius Caesar; Socrates was condemned to death and died in Athens in 399 b.c.; Epaminondas was a Theban leader against the Spartans in the mid-fourth century b.c.; Cato the Younger fought against Caesar in the Roman civil wars of the first century b.c.; Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, was beheaded by Henry VIII in 1535.

13 (p. 201) Nec vir fortis, nec fæmina casta: “Neither a brave man, nor a chaste woman.” Gulliver attributes the remark to Polydore Virgil’s sixteenth-century Latin history of England.

14 (p. 205) my intentions were for Japan, and I knew the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to enter into that kingdom: After anti-Christian rebellions inside Japan in 1638, the Japanese barred access to their country except for Dutch traders in Nagasaki, the assumption being that the Dutch were more interested in money than in converting the locals to Christianity.

15 . (p. 207) My tongue is in the mouth of my friend: One of the many jokes at the expense of the made-up languages in the Travels. Indeed, Gulliver sounds as if he is speaking with his tongue in someone else’s mouth.

16 (p. 211) I should then see the discovery of the longitude: Calculation of longitude was one of the great challenges to maritime science, and in Swift’s day prize money approaching £20,000 was available to anyone who succeeded.

17 (p. 217) the ceremony imposed on my countrymen of trampling upon the crucifix: In order to gain access to Nagasaki, the one port into which they were allowed in Japan, the Dutch had to forswear any latent missionary zeal on behalf of Christianity. Swift is historically accurate in describing the requirement of trampling on the crucifix. The Japanese also imposed tests on their own citizens that would ferret out Christian converts.

Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms

1 (p. 225) Their heads and breasts were covered with a thick hair…. I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong antipathy: Travel literature of Swift’s day was on the whole none-too-kind in describing the native tribal populations in the hinterlands of Africa and Australia. Swift draws on some of the typical descriptive language from travel accounts here, though his satire is a malicious exaggeration.

2 . (p. 235) The Emperor Charles V… said, that if he were to speak to his horse, it should be in High Dutch: King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500—1558) quipped that he would speak to God in Spanish, to his mistress in Italian, and to his horse in German (High Dutch).

3 . (p. 246) Difference in opinions hath cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh: . . . with many more: Each of these issues refers to a dispute within Catholicism, between Catholicism and Protestantism, and between sects of Protestantism. Generally, Swift refers to the sacraments of the Mass, church music, relics, and vestments.

4 (p. 266) their grand maxim is to cultivate reason, and to be wholly governed by it: Gulliver makes horses reasonable, though their reason is but meagerly exercised. The Houyhnhnms do as little as they can or as little as they are able. Perhaps they do have an Olympics of sorts—horses like to run—and a universal counsel every four years about oats—horses like to eat. But one of Swift’s points in the Travels is that reason and the capacity for reason are not the same thing. He wrote to Pope in 1725 of man as a rational animal: “I have got materials towards a treatise proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale; and to show it should be only rationis capax. Upon this great foundation of misanthropy (though not Timon’s manner) the whole building of my Travels is erected” (September 29, 1725; Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, p. 103; see “For Further Reading”).

5 (p. 282) February 15, 1714—5: Until 1753 in England New Year’s day was officially March 25, though custom recognized January as the new year. Hence for the period January through March conventional notation listed both the old and the new year.

6 (p. 283) my worthy friend Mr. Herman Moll: Moll was a Dutch map-maker living in England whose 1719 map of the world served as the cartographic model for the maps included in Gulliver’s Travels.

7 . (p. 290) Nec si miserum Fortuna Sinonem / Finxit, vanum etiam mendacemque improba finget: Virgil’s Aeneid, book 2, lines 79—80: “If ill-fortune has made Sinon wretched, she has not made him a vacuous liar as well.” Gulliver is blissfully unaware of the full irony of citing Sinon, indeed one of the greatest liars in literary history who is lying here about a horse (the Trojan horse)—not an incidental lie given Gulliver’s claim of veracity in regard to his visit to Houyhnhnmland.