Gulliver stays home only a few months before shipping out to sea again, as ship's surgeon, on the Hopewell. On reaching the port of Tonquin, the captain appoints Gulliver and a crew of fourteen to take a sloop loaded with other goods to trade with some nearby islands, but after a few days of sailing, a storm drives the sloop far off course. To compound the problem, pirates attack and capture Gulliver and his crew. Gulliver, as captain, is set adrift, and he spies a great object in the sky, an object which appears to be a flying island. The people on the Flying Island drop a seat attached to a chain to Gulliver, and he, welcoming this rescue, is lifted aboard.
By comparing the malicious Dutchman to the relatively merciful pagan pirates, Swift begins a sustained disparagement of the Dutch. The Dutchman betrays a fellow Christian out of greed and malice; he would like to have Gulliver killed, whereas the pirate, at least, spares Gulliver's life. Swift is setting up a contrast between the Dutchman whom we meet here (and those we meet later) and the charitable Portuguese captain whom we meet at the end of Book IV. The Dutch are convenient villains for Swift. Already, in The Conduct of the Allies, he had indicted them and the Whigs for their conduct of the war. The Dutch, it is true, had been allies of England in Marlborough's land campaigns against France, but they were allies chosen by the Whigs.
The flying island has a long history in satire. Many other satirists had used it as simply a marvel, but Swift takes it out of the realm of the incredible. He converts it from a marvel to a device; it is graphic and rather believable because we are told in great detail how it operates. Swift also makes it doubly useful by showing how the Laputans use it as an instrument of political tyranny.
Levant region on the eastern Mediterranean, including all countries bordering the sea between Greece & Egypt.
Tonquin (Tonkin) the Gulf of Tonkin, an arm of the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the coast of southern China; here, the first port visited by the Hopewell.
pocket-glass a small telescope; spyglass.
pocket-perspective another type of spyglass.
supplicating postures requests for help, as in a prayer-like position. Gulliver is humbly seeking rescue by the flying islanders.
the verge the edge; here, meaning the edge of the Flying Island.