by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels Morality and Ethics Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph)
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 grovelling 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. As for himself, he protested, that although few things delighted him so much as new discoveries in art or in nature, yet he would rather lose half his kingdom, than be privy to such a secret; which he commanded me, as I valued any life, never to mention any more." (2.7.4)
This is an interesting moment: the Brobdingnagian King refuses to import guns! It's like he's looking at Pandora's box and deciding to keep it shut.
I was surprised to find corruption grown so high and so quick in that empire, by the force of luxury so lately introduced; which made me less wonder at many parallel cases in other countries, where vices of all kinds have reigned so much longer, and where the whole praise, as well as pillage, has been engrossed by the chief commander, who perhaps had the least title to either.
As every person called up 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 degenerated 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. (3.8.11-12)
As Gulliver reflects on the Roman Empire, he sees two things of significance: (1) as soon as Rome steps into imperial rule and all the wealth and power it brings, corruption grows. This clearly appears to be a warning against the growing British Empire of the time. (2) The moral decay that Gulliver observes over and over again in recent English history seems to be having a physical effect on its people, who have "altered every lineament of an English countenance."
To clear up which, I endeavoured to give some ideas of the desire of power and riches; of the terrible effects of lust, intemperance, malice, and envy. All this I was forced to define and describe by putting cases and making suppositions. After which, like one whose imagination was struck with something never seen or heard of before, he would lift up his eyes with amazement and indignation. Power, government, war, law, punishment, and a thousand other things, had no terms wherein that language could express them, which made the difficulty almost insuperable, to give my master any conception of what I meant. (4.4.7)
This may be a minor point, but we see a moral problem here: Gulliver is forcing the Master Horse to contemplate "lust, intemperance, malice, and envy," ideas he has literally never conceived of before, and has to work to imagine. Doesn't Gulliver run the risk of damaging or disturbing the Master Horse too much with these ideas? Doesn't he have a moral obligation not to explain to the Houyhnhnms about European Yahoos?