There are different views about the nature of English court life during the early eighteenth century. Some embrace the pomp and show of court life with open arms, and others see the court and its customs as an ostentatious, unnecessary display of wealth and arrogance. Swift’s allegory in part 1 of Gulliver’s Travels draws a comparison between George I’s court during the years preceding the publication of the book and the Lilliputian court. It serves as a stage for Swift to satirize the English court during the early part of the eighteenth century.
Gulliver sees the Lilliputian court from a different perspective than the Lilliputians are able to look at it themselves. Swift shows how the attitudes and values of the members of the Lilliputian court are absurd. The pygmy race that constitutes Lilliput is comprised of human-like creatures that are no more than six inches tall. Swift’s first presentation of court life comes early in chapter one. A “Person of high Rank from his Imperial Majesty” (389) comes to Gulliver and climbs about his limbs up to Gulliver’s face.
Upon arriving, he produces “his Credentials under the Signet Royal” (390). The pygmy exhibits great ourage by walking up the body of a monster that is several times larger than he is. His courage exemplifies a degree of arrogance that stems from his social position in the Lilliputian society. Accordingly, Swift’s language in describing Gulliver’s lodging exposes a motif central to the work. The “great Gate” (392) was four feet high and two 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 the highway.
Obviously, these objects are miniscule compared to Gulliver and the English counterparts of these monuments. But these objects are in fact large to the Lilliputians. The emperor and “many principal Lords of his Court” (392) climb the turret to look at Gulliver, the new spectacle. This is akin to Londoners going to Bedlam hospital on Sunday afternoons after church for entertainment at the expense of the unlucky inhabitants. Swift’s comparison speaks out against English society. Those persons who are supposed to be the most civilized go to an asylum for entertainment.
Next, the grandeur of the Lilliputian monuments and the beauty of the town are hailed by Gulliver as looking “like the painted Scene of a City in Theatre” (392). He looks out upon the countryside surrounding the Capital City and sees perfectly manicured garden filled with flowers and the tallest trees measuring about seven feet tall. To Gulliver the gardens and fields look like a miniature pastoral setting, and the town must seem almost like a doll city with its small buildings. Court entertainment is another way the Lilliputians express their grand egotism.
The emperor makes candidates for “great Employments, and high Favou” (392) perform ridiculous stunts. The emperor chooses the person for a position based on who jumps over the highest rope. This system is not based on merit or even what the status of the prospective members is. Swift’s picture of court life here makes the positions seem trivial. Indeed, this is similar to the way George I appointed people to his court. He often made his choices based on recommendations from other members of his chamber that had an ulterior motive in the appointment of a particular person (Beattie 138-147).
In this way, George’s appointments were trivial and may as well have been based on who could jump over the highest rope. The ministers also strove for the approval and favoritism of the king. This led them to do almost anything to get friends in office and to hold the king’s preferment (Beattie 147-148). Mock battles conducted for 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) after watching the mock skirmishes.
Yes, but the army is composed of men who are six inches tall and the horses about five inches tall. The diminutive army poses no threat to anyone outside of its island. Gulliver’s perspective allows him to see this. Swift attacks King George with the lengthy description of “Golbasto Momaren Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue,”(405) emperor of Lilliput. This six-inch pygmy’s empire spans almost twelve miles, “to the Extremities of the Globe”(405). His arrogance is highlighted in the description by saying he is “taller than the Sons of Men” and “at whose Nod the Princes of the Earth shake their Knees”(405).
To think that a prince would shake at the sight of a six-inch man that he may not even notice in the first place is ridiculous. Gulliver, or Swift, sees the absurdity and arrogance of these people. He presents the court of Lilliput as an allegory for the English court. English arrogance is not a new idea. An Italian traveler noted in the early sixteenth century: The English are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them; they think that there are no other men than themselves; and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say ‘he looks like an Englishman’.
And that ‘it is a great pity that he should not be an Englishman’ (Erlanger 67) This certainly holds for the Lilliputians. Their world is confined to the island of Lilluput and they love all things Lilliputian. Swift’s llegory draws the comparison between Lilliputian and English society. Additionally, Gulliver tells of the inconsequential manner of courtly matters. One particular incident that divides the kingdom is the result of an edict published by the emperor that all people must break the smaller end 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 about something that has no real meaning, other than personal preference. Gulliver says “it is computed, that eleven Thousand Persons have, at everal Times, suffered Death, rather than submit to break their Eggs at the smaller End”(411). Gulliver desires to see the Royal Apartments, which are magnificent by all accounts.
Upon bending over to look in the palace window, Gulliver see “the most splendid Apartments that can be imagined” (409). It is clear that the Lilliputians took much care in building these apartments and the palace, much like the English palace and court. The capital city and the ostentatious palace can be seen like London in the time period. During that time in London, most of the buildings had clay-plastered walls, were uilt of wood, and thatched or tiled roofs (Erlanger 94). But the royal buildings were made of stone like the Lilliputian palace.
The display of wealth shown by the royal buildings in Lilliput points out the separation between the royal class and the lower class. Likewise, Londoners considered their city a nation within itself (Erlanger 105). The Lilliputians also lacked the ability to look beyond their city and consider the larger world around them. Thus, this is Swift’s main point. Both Lilliputians and Londoners are too caught up in their statesmanship and tradition to see the vast world hat 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 force the reader to look at the English court. There are abundant similarities between the two courts. Therefore, Swift makes a statement about the attitude and values of the members of the English court through the Lilliputians.