Summary and Analysis
Gulliver entertains himself and demonstrates his ingenuity by using the King's beard stubble to make a comb and by using strands of the Queen's hair to make several chairs and a purse. In addition, Gulliver plays the spinet (piano) for the King and Queen by using sticks formed as cudgels to bang on the keys as he runs up and down a piano bench. The King also holds several audiences with Gulliver to discuss the culture of Gulliver's home country, England. In these audiences, as requested by the King, Gulliver explains the role of the people in the operation of the government, in religion, and in the legal system, among other topics. The King, after asking many questions related to all that Gulliver tells him, concludes this audience with a summary and an assessment of what he hears.
In this chapter, Swift changes his focus to European politics and institutional morality. The king is the questioner, and Gulliver is the "expert." Immediately we sense that what Gulliver says is naive. He is idealizing his country's customs and institutions; he even lies about them. His distortion, therefore, is revealing: It exposes the actual workings of the English system.
Besides attacking the English as a whole, Swift singles out the Whigs. When the King asks whether lords are advanced because of achievement or from political convenience, the reference is to the Whigs' buying votes in parliament by granting nobility to politicians. When the King asks whether bishops are ever appointed because of their political opinions, the reference is again to the Whigs, who appointed writers of their party to bishoprics. Conversely, clerical success was denied Swift largely because of his political opinions. When the King asks whether members of parliament are not sometimes elected by bribery or influence, the allusion is to Walpole, a master at rigging elections. And when the King asks whether judges don't sometimes get rich and dispense partial and slow justice, Swift's inference is that justices of the peace are usually stupid and biased and that judges in the higher courts are notoriously slow and usually very rich.
Swift has Gulliver invoke the rhetoricians before he begins praising England; then he connects this highly formal invocation with the ludicrous spectacle of Gulliver proudly banging on the piano with mallets. Also, Swift uses insect imagery to surround the discussion of the morality of Europe; Gulliver even brags that bees and ants have a reputation for sagacity. Gulliver's praise rings hollow. The King tells his pint-sized performer that English history is not as Gulliver describes; rather, it is a "heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments, the very worst effects that avarice, faction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, or ambition could produce." He concludes that the bulk of Gulliver's countrymen are "the most pernicious race of odious little vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." — a statement that is not only the most famous statement in the Travels, but is perhaps the most famous in all literature in its assessment of the nature of mankind.
the King's levee a morning reception held by a sovereign or person of high rank upon arising.
awl a small, pointed tool for making holes in wood, leather, etc.
consorts seventeenth-century English chamber music ensembles, sometimes including vocalists.
spinet an early, small variety of harpsichord with a single keyboard.
play a jig to perform a fast, gay, springy sort of dance, usually in triple time.
sifted me to inspect or examine with care, as by testing or questioning; here, meaning the King asked many probing questions of Gulliver.
chancery the court of the Lord Chancellor of England.
gaming the act or practice of gambling.