A voyage to Lilliput

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[back to start Creativity Explored in Gulliver’s Footsteps]
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In the first part Swift systematically starts building up his tale of make-believe by giving a fully detailed account of Lemuel Gulliver, a Nottinghamshire man who studied medicine at Cambridge and physics at Leyden. Having made a few voyages as a ship's surgeon he married and settled in London, where he set up a practice. As his business began to fail 'for my Conscience would not suffer me to imitate the bad Practice of too many among my Brethern' he resolved to go to sea again and signed on as ship's surgeon on board a vessel bound for the East Indies. The ship was driven on to a rock near Van Diemen's Land and went down with all hands. Gulliver was the sole survivor and managed to reach the shore, where he sank down in utter exhaustion. Awakening from a deep sleep he found himself unable to move: his body and hair has been fastened to the ground by means of a great many thin but very strong ropes. He manages to free part of his head and arm but then he is hit by many small arrows, that he decides to cooperate with his captors. It turned out that he was the captive of creatures no more than six inches high, but otherwise resembling human beings in every respect. By means of complicated machinery he is transported to their capital once they see that he means no harm. There he was imprisoned in an old temple, the only building big enough to contain him. Gulliver was deprived of his dagger, pistols and watch which aroused the astonishment and terror of these tiny people. The Emperor of Lilliput, who was taller than any of his subjects by the full breadth of Gulliver's nail, ordered him to be taught their language, which Gulliver could soon speak and understand. After some time Gulliver's gentleness and peaceful behaviour induced the noble Emperor to grant him his liberty, with an allowance of food sufficient for 1728 Lilliputians and a large retinue of servants. Hundreds of cooks busied themselves to keep him provided with food., for he ate their sheep and oxen by two or three at a mouthful. His bed was constructed by sewing together six hundred beds of the common measure. He is given the name of Quinbus Flestrin, which he thinks means Man-Mountain.
Gulliver regained his liberty after taking an oath, first in the manner of his own country and then he was demanded to swear in the method described by their laws; which was to hold his right foot in his left hand, to place the middle finger of his right hand on the crown of his head, and his thumb on the tip of his right ear. Then Gulliver had an opportunity of observing the manners and customs of his hosts as well as the structure of their society. Appointments were won at court by performing on the high rope or by creeping under and leaping over a silk thread held by the emperor and his Prime Minister. There were two opposing political parties: one favoured high heels, the other low heels on their shoes. In the matter of breaking eggs they were also divided into parties: those that broke their eggs at the smaller end were in power and had banished their opponents who broke eggs at the bigger end. This had all happened because the present Emperor's grandfather while he was a boy and going to eat his egg, and broke it according to the ancient practice, had happened to cut one of his fingers. Then his father published an edict commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law that there had been six rebellions; which had cost the life of one emperor, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu, the neighbouring country and traditional enemy. It was of course there that the exiles always fled. If a Lilliputian was falsely accused of treason, his accuser was put to death. Anyone that had strictly observed the laws of the country for a certain period was publicly rewarded. In choosing people for all employments, they had more regard to good morals that to great abilities. Children were sent to public nurseries at an early age and educated in state-run schools. It became clear to gulliver, however, that in practice the Lilliputians often acted contrary to these and other admirable rules which their ancestors had handed down to them.
When rumours began to circulate that the Blefuscudian fleet was preparing to invade Lilliput, Gulliver captured it by the simple means of dragging by ropes all the war-ships with him. To protect his eyes he wore spectacles. For this glorious deed the emperor of Lilliput promoted him to the highest rank of the country, thus making him a mortal enemy in the person of Skyris Bolgolam, the high admiral. However, Gulliver, made the Emperor very angry by pleading in favour of the conquered Blefuscudians and obtaining an honourable peace for them. For this reason, and because his maintenance proved a serious drain on the country's economy, the Emperor and the his advisers decided to have his eyes put out and starve him to death. The occasion that is also used against him is the fact that one night when the palace is on fire he manages to quell the fire by urinating on it. All the means had failed, 'but by a presence of mind, unusual to me' he violated the rule that within the palace ground urinating was not allowed. By a friend at court he is warned that he was in danger of losing his life and escaped to Blefuscu. There the Emperor had not forgotten that he owed Gulliver a great debt and welcomes him. Moreover, he is glad of having such a formidable ally and proposed that Gulliver stay in his country. But Gulliver has lost all confidence in monarchs and when he found a boat washed ashore, he repairs it and sets out for his native country. He stored the boat with the carcasses of a hundred oxen and three hundred sheep, with bread and drink in proportion , and as much meat ready dressed as four hundred cooks could provide. As proof of his adventures he also took with him a number of live cattle, which he intended to breed in England. An English ship soon picked him up and carried him home.