England and the Netherlands, both Protestant countries, were allied in the War of the Spanish Succession against the Catholic powers of France and Spain. It was a Whig war and a Whig alliance, and Swift detested both. During Gulliver's travels to Laputa et. al., Swift takes every opportunity to blacken the reputation of the Dutch.
The Tory hatred of the Dutch derived from commercial rivalry. The Dutch tolerance of diversity in religion also undermined the Tory concept of a national church, which intensified the animosity,
After 1600, Japan as a nation withdrew into strict seclusion. European explorers had previously reached Japan and missionaries had converted a number of Japanese to Christianity. An anti-Christian campaign was launched, and by 1640 the Japanese islands were cleansed of the western religion. That is why Swift pictures the Dutchman informing the Japanese captain that his captives are Christians. By doing so, the Dutchman would ensure a death sentence for them.
As part of Japan's self-imposed isolation all foreigners were expelled, except for some Dutch traders who were allowed to remain on the small island of Deshima in Nagasaki Harbor. This was Japan's only contact with the outside world. It accounts for the Japanese captain's ability to speak a little Dutch.
An interesting note: since Japan as part of its isolation policy forbade its population to leave the islands, and put an end to to the building of ships large enough to make sea voyages, it is highly unrealistic that there was a Japanese captain on the open seas.
Isaac Asimov in The Annotated Gulliver's Travels remarks:
Others had invented fanciful flying cities before this, but Jonathan Swift was the first to attempt an explanation of its workings in line with the findings of contemporary science. This section of the book is therefore true science fiction, perhaps the earliest example we have of it. To include earlier works as science fiction involves broadening the definition of the genre to include works not strictly based on a scientific background, and thus little more than adventure fantasy -- like, for instance, the first two parts of Gulliver's Travels.
Satirically, Laputa is supposed to symbolize the court of Great Britain which towered high above the rest of the kingdom in terms of power and social position.
Swift also pokes fun at the world of science which involves itself in abstract thought high above the interests of lowly, ordinary human beings.
With one eye turned inward and the other skyward, Swift points to the two great scientific instruments of the age, the microscope and the telescope.
Staring at the stars while walking, he failed to notice a ditch and fell in. A bystander laughed and said, "Here is a man who would understand the motion of the stars, yet who cannot see what lies at his feet."
Thales is the prototype for the "absentminded professor".
"La puta" is Spanish for "the whore", and is here a reference to Reason.
Exasperated when his opponents used Reason to dispute points which he had based on faith, Martin Luther cried out against "that Great Whore, Reason."
Throughout Gulliver's visit to Laputa, Swift points a finger at Isaac Newton.
Newton served as Master of the Mint from 1696. In 1722, Robert Walpole's government granted a license for the coining of new halfpence and farthings for use in Ireland, without consulting the Irish people. Those involved in England were expected to make a great deal of money.
Swift was living in Dublin at the time, and he came out furiously in favor of the right of the Irish to a voice in matters that so closely affected them. He published a series of essays under a pseudonym which contributed to the defeat of the whole proposal. What Swift could not forgive was that Newton had lent his prestige to the coinage proposal. To Swift that was an example of a mathematician giving his "Judgments in Matters of State" concerning which he had no expertise.
The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is a scientific journal published by the Royal Society. It was established in 1665, making it the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science. It has remained in continuous publication ever since, the world's longest-running scientific journal.
The description of the way Laputa works is a satirical imitation of papers published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Swift manages to make something quite impossible sound very plausible by using the scientific terminology of his day.
The Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens (1629 - 1695) used a telescope 123 feet long. In 1673, the German astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611 - 1687) used one that was 150 feet long. In 1722, the English astronomer James Bradley (1693 -1762) used one that was 212 feet long.
In 1757, thirty-one years after Gulliver's Travels was published, optical advances made achromatic parabolic lenses possible, and long telescopes vanished. Comparatively short telescopes of better magnification, like those of the Laputans, came into existence. Swift did not live to see it, but he was correct in his prediction.
This paragraph, and the next four, were omitted from all editions until 1899. The first publishers considered them too dangerous to include.
William Wood, the man who was to produce the coins that the English government attempted to foist upon the Irish without their consent, bought the privilege from the Duchess of Kendal, the mistress of King George I.