by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels Morality and Ethics Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph)
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 [the Brobdingnagian King's] education prevailed so far, that he could not forbear taking me up in his right hand, and stroking me gently with the other, after a hearty fit of laughing, asked 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." (2.3.9)
Gulliver feels outraged that the Brobdingnagian King belittles the profound importance of the conflict between the Whigs and the Tories. At the same time, from a distance, the conflict between the Lilliputian high and low heels seems equally unimportant. Why does Swift depict the Whigs and the Tories without discussing their different policy positions or interpretations of English law? Why does he sidestep their ethical differences in order to satirize them?
His majesty, in another audience, was at the pains to recapitulate the sum of all I had spoken; compared the questions he made with the answers I had given; then taking me into his hands, and stroking me gently, delivered himself in these words, which I shall never forget, nor the manner he spoke them in: "My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which, in its original, might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions." (2.6.18)
The fact that the King of Brobdingnag is basically petting Gulliver while he delivers these assessments of the moral qualities of England really underlines how insignificant Gulliver's people seem in a broader perspective. We also find it intriguing that the King grants that the original institutions of English government, "in its original, might have been tolerable," but now they have grown corrupt. What historical events of Swift's time might account for his dissatisfaction with the current line of kings?
But great allowances should be given to a king, who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world, and must therefore be altogether unacquainted with the manners and customs that most prevail in other nations: the want of which knowledge will ever produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking, from which we, and the politer countries of Europe, are wholly exempted. And it would be hard indeed, if so remote a prince's notions of virtue and vice were to be offered as a standard for all mankind. (2.7.2)
Pre-Houyhnhnm Gulliver seems to believe that the Brobdingnagian King would learn more about morality of he were exposed to a range of the "politer countries in Europe." But by the end of the book, he wants to remain isolated from mankind with the Houyhnhnms. Why might a country's isolation contribute to its moral development?