01 December 2011
Gulliver’s Travels and Historical England
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is a famous, classic novel that satirized many aspects of government, religion and human nature. Written in the eighteenth century, this three-hundred-year-old novel remains well known today because of its timeless criticism that can still be applied to contemporary politics and religious faiths. In eighteenth century England, the home of both Swift and his character Lemuel Gulliver, the ruling constitutional monarchy was made up of two governing bodies, the monarch and his or her personal advisors, and the English Parliament, the members of which were elected by the people. Though this may have seemed like a well structured government, it was in fact deeply flawed and had many illogical systems. England was also Protestant at the time, where the church had significant influence in the nation, and even started wars against their Catholic neighbour, France. Arguably, the religious system of England acted very unreasonably and contradictory to its own ideals, including keeping peace. Swift, the creator of this novel, was not only an author, but also an English politician and a Protestant priest. This made him very qualified to make judgments about England, and offers a reason why his satires can be used as evidence against eighteenth century England. Swift wrote these satires due to his disappointment with certain aspects of England. Through the numerous adventures and satires found in Gulliver’s Travels, Swift proves how England during the eighteenth century had an illogical government system, specifically a constitutional monarchy, as well a flawed religious system.
The first fault of the English’s constitutional monarchy is found within their method of choosing successors. The King or Queen of England is selected through family ties. The son or daughter of the ruling monarch ascends to the throne once the current monarch dies. The problem with monarchies is that the king or queen may not be capable of leading a country because they are chosen by birth. Swift satirizes this method though Lemuel Gulliver’s first adventure, A Voyage to Lilliput. The two nations within this section are Lilliput and Blefuscu, which are fictional representations of England and France respectively. Akin to England, Lilliput is ruled by a monarch, known to Gulliver as the Emperor. The Emperor is assisted by a council of ministers, those of whom are selected in a very illogical manner; they are chosen based their ability to rope dance. People who perform the best are given a position within the government. This is one of Swift’s first satires, which he uses to help the reader see the flaw with the monarchy. The fact that being part of a family or bloodline is completely irrelevant to one’s leadership abilities, just like rope dancing is not related to any government work. Heredity should not be the method used to choose leaders because it is not guaranteed that the new king or queen is suited for such a position. This is the reason why the method used by monarchs to choose successors is flawed. This satire can actually be applied to historical England, specifically the monarch in power during Swift’s time, King George I. George I is of German descent, but only became the English monarch because he was a Protestant. According to the Act of Settlement 1701, Catholics cannot inherit the throne. George was selected to be the king even though over 50 Catholics were closer to George’s predecessor, Queen Anne. The fact that participating in a certain religion eliminates the possibility of being a leader is absolutely illogical, as personal religious faith does not dictate how capable a leader is. This only emphasizes how flawed the method of choosing successors is. George I’s ascension to the English throne is probably one of the motivations for Swift to create this satire. Through the rope dancing satire and historical knowledge of King George I’s...
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