EN4723Dr. Wolf Lilliputian and English Court LifeThere are different views about the nature of English court lifeduring the early eighteenth century. Some embrace the pomp and show ofcourt life with open arms, and others see the court and its customs as anostentatious, unnecessary display of wealth and arrogance. Swift’sallegory in part 1 of Gulliver’s Travels draws a comparison between GeorgeI’s court during the years preceding the publication of the book and theLilliputian court. It serves as a stage for Swift to satirize the Englishcourt during the early part of the eighteenth century.
Gulliver sees theLilliputian court from a different perspective than the Lilliputians areable to look at it themselves. Swift shows how the attitudes and values ofthe members of the Lilliputian court are absurd.The pygmy race that constitutes Lilliput is comprised of human-likecreatures that are no more than six inches tall.
Swift’s firstpresentation of court life comes early in chapter one. A “Person of highRank from his Imperial Majesty” (389) comes to Gulliver and climbs abouthis limbs up to Gulliver’s face. Upon arriving, he produces “hisCredentials under the Signet Royal” (390). The pygmy exhibits greatcourage by walking up the body of a monster that is several times largerthan he is. His courage exemplifies a degree of arrogance that stems fromhis social position in the Lilliputian society.
Accordingly, Swift’s language in describing Gulliver’s lodging exposesa motif central to the work. The “great Gate” (392) was four feet high andtwo feet wide, and the “great Highway” (392) measures twenty feet across.A turret of “at least five Foot high” stands at the other side of thehighway. Obviously, these objects are miniscule compared to Gulliver andthe English counterparts of these monuments. But these objects are in factlarge to the Lilliputians. The emperor and “many principal Lords of hisCourt” (392) climb the turret to look at Gulliver, the new spectacle. Thisis akin to Londoners going to Bedlam hospital on Sunday afternoons afterchurch for entertainment at the expense of the unlucky inhabitants.
Swift’s comparison speaks out against English society. Those persons whoare supposed to be the most civilized go to an asylum for entertainment.Next, the grandeur of the Lilliputian monuments and the beauty of thetown are hailed by Gulliver as looking “like the painted Scene of a City ina Theatre” (392). He looks out upon the countryside surrounding theCapital City and sees perfectly manicured garden filled with flowers andthe tallest trees measuring about seven feet tall.
To Gulliver the gardensand fields look like a miniature pastoral setting, and the town must seemalmost like a doll city with its small buildings.Court entertainment is another way the Lilliputians express theirgrand egotism. The emperor makes candidates for “great Employments, andhigh Favou” (392) perform ridiculous stunts. The emperor chooses theperson for a position based on who jumps over the highest rope. Thissystem is not based on merit or even what the status of the prospectivemembers is.
Swift’s picture of court life here makes the positions seemtrivial. Indeed, this is similar to the way George I appointed people tohis court. He often made his choices based on recommendations from othermembers of his chamber that had an ulterior motive in the appointment of aparticular person (Beattie 138-147). In this way, George’s appointmentswere trivial and may as well have been based on who could jump over thehighest rope. The ministers also strove for the approval and favoritism ofthe king.
This led them to do almost anything to get friends in office andto hold the king’s preferment (Beattie 147-148). Mock battles conductedfor court are another source of entertainment for the members of court.Gulliver makes a platform for the army to fight the battles. He says he”discovered the best military Discipline I ever beheld” (403) afterwatching the mock skirmishes. Yes, but the army is composed of men who aresix inches tall and the horses about five inches tall. The diminutive armyposes no threat to anyone outside of its island. Gulliver’s perspectiveallows him to see this.
Swift attacks King George with the lengthy description of “GolbastoMomaren Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue,”(405) emperor of Lilliput.This six-inch pygmy’s empire spans almost twelve miles, “to the Extremitiesof the Globe”(405). His arrogance is highlighted in the description bysaying he is “taller than the Sons of Men” and “at whose Nod the Princes ofthe Earth shake their Knees”(405). To think that a prince would shake atthe sight of a six-inch man that he may not even notice in the first placeis ridiculous.
Gulliver, or Swift, sees the absurdity and arrogance ofthese people. He presents the court of Lilliput as an allegory for theEnglish court. English arrogance is not a new idea. An Italian travelernoted in the early sixteenth century:The English are great lovers of themselves, and of everythingbelonging to them; they think that there are no other men than themselves;and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say ‘he looks like anEnglishman’. And that ‘it is a great pity that he should not be anEnglishman’ (Erlanger 67)This certainly holds for the Lilliputians.
Their world is confined tothe island of Lilluput and they love all things Lilliputian. Swift’sallegory draws the comparison between Lilliputian and English society.Additionally, Gulliver tells of the inconsequential manner of courtlymatters. One particular incident that divides the kingdom is the result ofan edict published by the emperor that all people must break the smallerend of their eggs. This prompts six different rebellions in the kingdom.Swift again illuminates the nature of the English court with his satire.The court worries about trivial things and people are in an uproar aboutsomething that has no real meaning, other than personal preference.
Gulliver says “it is computed, that eleven Thousand Persons have, atseveral Times, suffered Death, rather than submit to break their Eggs atthe smaller End”(411).Gulliver desires to see the Royal Apartments, which are magnificent byall accounts. Upon bending over to look in the palace window, Gulliver see”the most splendid Apartments that can be imagined” (409). It is clearthat the Lilliputians took much care in building these apartments and thepalace, much like the English palace and court.
The capital city and theostentatious palace can be seen like London in the time period. Duringthat time in London, most of the buildings had clay-plastered walls, werebuilt of wood, and thatched or tiled roofs (Erlanger 94). But the royalbuildings were made of stone like the Lilliputian palace. The display ofwealth shown by the royal buildings in Lilliput points out the separationbetween the royal class and the lower class.
Likewise, Londonersconsidered their city a nation within itself (Erlanger 105). TheLilliputians also lacked the ability to look beyond their city and considerthe larger world around them.Thus, this is Swift’s main point.
Both Lilliputians and Londoners aretoo caught up in their statesmanship and tradition to see the vast worldthat surrounds them. Gulliver’s size allows him to see the Lilliputian”pomp and statesmanship” (Eddy 109) for what it is, childish and farcical.To Lilliputians, their court is “imposing and dignified” (Eddy 109).
Gulliver’s vision deflates the seeming grandeur of the court in Lilliput.Swift successfully pictures the court of Lilliput in this manner to forcethe reader to look at the English court. There are abundant similaritiesbetween the two courts. Therefore, Swift makes a statement about theattitude and values of the members of the English court through theLilliputians.