Page 101. " I used to attend the King's Levee "


King Louie XIV Court
Public DomainKing Louie XIV Court


Louis XIV, while rising in the morning (his levee), would often receive visitors. He made a most elaborate ritual out of this, as he did out of everything, however trivial. The term eventually came to be used for any royal audience at whatever time of day. In England, in Swift's time, the term came to be used for an audience held by the king in the early afternoon, with only men invited.


Page 106. " almost ruined by a long Suit in Chancery "
Public DomainChancery

One of the three divisions of the English High Court of Justice presided over by the lord chancellor, Chancery was once known for the length and tediousness of its suits. Lawyers and judges argued over trivial points of procedure for so long that their legal fees would consume any judgment, however large, and all parties in the suit were very likely to be ruined. Charles Dickens satirized Chancery bitterly in Bleak House, published in 1853. It was not till 1875 that the worst abuses were abolished.



Page 106. " they sometimes amounted to more than double "

Bank of England
Public DomainBank of England - Credit: Adrian Pingstone
Swift was a Tory writing during a Whig administration, and he is himself moved by those same party considerations he denounces.

As an example, the Bank of England was founded in 1694. The English government discovered that by borrowing money they could meet the financial requirements of a crisis such as a war without unduly increasing taxation. Then, supposedly, the debt would be paid off in peacetime. The War of the Spanish Succession was successfully funded in this way. Many governments have since dealt with crises by borrowing heavily. The debts are frequently left to accumulate, leading most recently to the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the USA.

Generally speaking, liberals (such as the Whigs) concentrate on the good that borrowed money can do now, while conservatives (such as the Tories) focus on the troubles that might accrue later as the debts accumulate.

In Swift's time, the Whigs seemed content to allow the national debt to rise. The Tories denounced that practice. The Brobdingnagian King, in following the Tory party line, is a mouthpiece for Swift's own views.

Page 106. " our Generals must needs be richer than our Kings "

This is a jab at John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough (1650 - 1722), who managed to enrich himself during the course of his military career and who was charged by his enemies with avarice and corruption. Swift was one of his most biting critics, and in 1710 he wrote a savage indictment of Marlborough in which he listed all his earnings and had them come to 540,000 pounds, equivalent to tens of millions of dollars in present-day money. Indeed, Swift implied that Marlborough was prolonging the war in order to further enrich himself.

The Duke of Marlborough died in 1722, four years before Gulliver's Travels was published.  He left behind one of the finest country houses in Britain, Blenheim Palace, funded in part by "a grateful nation" and partly by the Duke.


Blenheim Palace
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBlenheim Palace - Credit: Jonathanjonl, Flickr
Page 109. " Dionysius Halicarnassensis with so much Justice recommends to an Historian "
Public DomainHalicarnassus

Halicarnassus was a city on the southwestern shore of what is now Turkey. Dionysius was a Greek historian who lived there in the first century B.C., dying in 7 B.C. He settled in Rome about 29 B.C. and wrote a history of Rome in twenty volumes, half of which still exists. It was his avowed purpose to write a panegyric (high praise in verse) of the Romans in order to reconcile the Greeks to being ruled by them.

Page 112. " They have had the Art of Printing, as well as the Chinese "
Printing Press
GNU Free Documentation LicensePrinting Press - Credit: MatthiasKabel

The Chinese developed the concept of printing as early as 200AD, more than 12 centuries before it was invented in Europe. By 1050 they had invented movable type, and by 1313 a font in the 60,000 Chinese characters had been carved into wooden blocks. In Korea, even more elaborate fonts of bronze were prepared.

Page 113. " chosen after the Manner of Venice by Ballot? "
GNU Free Documentation LicenseVenice - Credit: Bernard bill5

Most European states in Swift's time were hereditary monarchies. Of the few exceptions, the oldest and most important was Venice.

The city state was governed by the elected "doge" (duke). The first doge, according to tradition, was Paolo Lucio Anafesto, elected in 697. By the time of the book, Venice had been a republic for a thousand years and had virtually never been troubled by civil turmoil.

However Venice was by no means a democracy. Only a few leading families had any say in the election of the doge.

Page 124. " came to a right Understanding "

Gulliver stoops to his wife
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumGulliver stoops to his wife - Credit: ClipartETC
Gulliver recovers from his near-madness here, but it was originally Swift's plan to follow this second part with the section that now appears as the fourth part, in which Gulliver encounters a still greater disparity than the one between himself and the Brobdingnagians, and comes to feel so greatly inferior that he goes completely mad. It then occurred to Swift to write a satire on contemporary science and he made it the third part in which Gulliver is most nearly a static observer and which breaks the rhythm of what would otherwise have been a tragic progression  downward. The third part contains some of the most striking passages in the book.