Gulliver's Travels: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. "Whoever performs his part with most agility, and holds out the longest in leaping and creeping, is rewarded with the blue-coloured silk; the red is given to the next, and the green to the third, which they all wear girt twice around the middle; and you see few great persons about this court who are not adorned with one of these girdles." (Part I, Chapter III)
    Gulliver describes the honors system at the Lilliputian court, whereby the Emperor holds out a stick and candidates for honors leap over the stick and creep under it. This performance is Swift's satirical comment on the honors system prevalent in European courts of his day, and still practiced as of 2006, including in non-monarchical states. He suggests that honors are given not for genuine worth but for being good at pleasing and flattering the ruler.
  2. "It was a custom introduced by this prince and his ministry . . . that after the court had decreed any cruel execution, either to gratify the monarch's resentment, or the malice of a favourite, the Emperor always made a speech to his whole Council expressing his great lenity and tenderness, as qualities known and confessed by all the world. This speech was immediately published through the kingdom; nor did any thing terrify the people so much as those encomiums on his Majesty's mercy; because it was observed, that the more these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the punishment, and the sufferer more innocent." ( Part I, Chapter VII)
    The Emperor of Lilliput, having sentenced Gulliver to a slow and painful death for no just reason, adds to his moral crimes that of hypocrisy, by issuing speeches praising his mercy. The people's terrified response reveals the Emperor, and by satirical implication real-life monarchs, to be a brutal tyrant masquerading as a compassionate leader.
  3. ". . . he observed how contemptible a thing was human grandeur, which could be mimicked by such diminutive insects as I: and yet, said he, I dare engage, these creatures have their titles and distinctions of honour, they contrive little nests and burrows, that they call houses and cities; they make a figure in dress and equipage; they love, they fight, they dispute, they cheat, they betray. And thus he continued on, while my colour came and went several times with indignation to hear our noble country, the mistress of arts and arms, the scourge of France, the arbitress of Europe, the seat of virtue, piety, honour, and truth, the pride and envy of the world, so contemptuously treated." (Part II, Chapter III)
    The King of Brobdingnag, where all the people are giants relative to Gulliver, reflects on the ridiculousness of human vanity and pride, which is so potent a force even among people of Gulliver's (and the reader's own) size, who are to Brobdingnagians as small and as insignificant as insects.
  4. "I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." (Part II, Chapter VI)
    In what is probably the most quoted phrase of the book, the King of Brobdingnag, having listened to Gulliver's account of the government of England, delivers his verdict on Englishmen.
  5. "And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together." (Part II, Chapter VII)
    The King of Brobdingnag expresses amazement that thousands of books on the art of government have been written in England. He believes that government is only a matter of common sense and justice. His definition of usefulness in government - simple productivity for the benefit of the people - effectively condemns politicians as parasites on, rather than benefactors of, the people.
  6. ". . . there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some philosophers have not maintained for truth." (Part III, Chapter VI)
    A depressed Gulliver reaches this conclusion after visiting the Academy of Lagado, where professors are engaged in ridiculous schemes to reform all fields of knowledge (such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers) while the people starve and live in ruined buildings. The section is a satire on abstract knowledge.
  7. ". . . as to those filthy Yahoos, although there were few greater lovers of mankind, at that time, than myself, yet I confess I never saw any sensitive being so detestable on all accounts; and the more I came near them, the more hateful they grew, while I stayed in that country." (Part IV, Chapter II)
    Though Gulliver wants to distance himself from the Yahoos, Swift is making a satirical point by emphasizing the similarity between them and human beings. This passage follows an incident in which the Houyhnhnms compare him with the Yahoos and consider him to be one. Gulliver's comment that "there were few greater lovers of mankind, at that time, than myself" also assumes that the Yahoos are essentially part of mankind.
  8. ". . . although he hated the Yahoos of this country, yet he no more blamed them for their odious qualities, than he did a gnnayh (a bird of prey) for its cruelty, or a sharp stone for cutting his hoof. But when a creature pretending to reason could be capable of such enormities, he dreaded lest the corruption of that faculty might be worse than brutality itself. He seemed therefore confident, that instead of reason, we were only possessed of some quality fitted to increase our natural vices . . ." (Part IV, Chapter V)
    After Gulliver has explained the ingenious ways that humankind has devised to kill each other in war, his Houyhnhnm master can hardly believe that a creature that claims to possess reason can act with such brutality. They are more to blame than the bestial Yahoos of his own country, who, lacking the rational faculty, have no choice but to act as they do.
  9. "I said there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves." (Part IV, Chapter V)
    Gulliver explains to his Houyhnhnm master how, in his society, law can ruin people's lives because of the corruption into which the justice system has fallen. In Houyhnhnm society, in contrast, law is used to sustain life.
  10. ". . . he said he had been very seriously considering my whole story, as far as it related both to myself and my country; that he looked upon us as a sort of animals to whose share, by what accident he could not conjecture, some small pittance of reason had fallen, whereof we made no other use than by its assistance to aggravate our natural corruptions, and to acquire new ones which nature had not given us." (Part IV, Chapter VII)
    Gulliver's Houyhnhnm master gives his damning verdict on Gulliver's fellow men.

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