Part I - Chapter VII
BEFORE I PROCEED to give an account of my leaving this kingdom it may be proper to inform the reader of a private intrigue which had been for two months forming against me.
I had been hitherto all my life a stranger to courts, for which I was unqualified by the meanness of my condition. I had, indeed, heard and read enough of the dispositions of great Princes and ministers, but never expected to have found such terrible effects of them in so remote a country, governed, as I thought, by very different maxims from those in Europe.
When I was just preparing to pay my attendance on the Emperor of Blefuscu, a considerable person at court (to whom I had been very serviceable at a time when he lay under the highest displeasure of his Imperial Majesty) came to my house very privately at night in a close chair, and, without sending his name, desired admittance. The chairmen were dismissed; I put the chair, with his lordship in it, into my coat pocket; and, giving orders to a trusty servant to say I was indisposed and gone to sleep, I fastened the door of my house, placed the chair on the table, according to my usual custom, and sat down by it. After the common salutations were over, observing his lordship's countenance full of concern, and inquiring into the reason, he desired I would hear him with patience in a matter that highly concerned my honor and my life. His speech was to the following effect, for I took notes of it as soon as he left me.
“You are to know,” said he, “that several committees of council have been lately called in the most private manner on your account; and it is but two days since his Majesty came to a full resolution.
“You are very sensible that Skyresh Bolgolam” (galbet, or high admiral) hath been your mortal enemy almost ever since your arrival; his original reasons I know not; but his hatred is increased since your great success against Blefuscu, by which his glory as admiral is much obscured. This lord, in conjunction with Flimnap, the high treasurer, whose enmity against you is notorious on account of his lady, Limtoc, the general, Lalcon, the chamberlain, and Balmuff, the grand justiciary, have prepared articles of impeachment against you for treason and other capital crimes.”
This preface made me so impatient, being conscious of my own merits and innocence, that I was going to interrupt, when he entreated me to be silent, and thus proceeded:
“Out of gratitude for the favors you have done me I procured information of the whole proceedings, and a copy of the articles, wherein I venture my head for your service.
“‘Articles of Impeachment against QUINBUS FLESTRIN, (the MAN-MOUNTAIN)
“ ‘Article I
“‘whereas, by a statute made in the reign of his Imperial Majest Calin Deffar Plune, it is enacted, that whoever shall make water within the precincts of the royal palace, shall be liable to the pains and penalties of high-treason: notwithstanding, the said Quinbus Flestrin, in open breech of the said law, under color of extinguishing the fire kindled in the apartment of his Majesty's most dear Imperial Consort, did maliciously, traitorously, and devilishly, by discharge of urine, put out the said fire kindled in the said apartment, lying and being within the precincts of the said royal palace; against the statute in that case provided, etc. against the duty, etc.
“ ‘Article II
“‘That the said Quinbus Flestrin having brought the imperial fleet of Blefuscu into the royal port, and being afterward commanded by his Imperial Majesty to seize all the other ships of the said empire of Blefuscu and reduce that empire to a province, to be governed by a viceroy from hence, and to destroy and put to death not only all the Big-endian exiles, but likewise all the people of that empire who would not immediately forsake the Big-endian heresy: he, the said Flestrin, like a false traitor against his most auspicious, serene, Imperial Majesty, did petition to be excused from the said service, upon pretense of unwillingness to force the consciences or destroy the liberties and lives of innocent people.
“ ‘Article III
“‘That, whereas certain ambassadors arrived from the court of Blefuscu to sue for peace in his Majesty's court; he, the said Flestrin, did, like a false traitor, aid, abet, comfort, and divert the said ambassadors, although he knew them to be servants to a Prince who was lately an open enemy to his Imperial Majesty, and in an open war against his said Majesty.
“ ‘Article IV
“‘That the said Quinbus Flestrin, contrary to the duty of a faithful subject, is now preparing to make a voyage to the court and empire of Blefuscu, for which he hath received only verbal license from his Imperial Majesty; and under color of the said license doth falsely and traitorously intend to take the said voyage, and thereby to aid, comfort, and abet the Emperor of Blefuscu, so late an enemy, and in open war with his Imperial Majesty aforesaid.’
“There are some other articles, but these are the most important, of which I have read you an abstract.
“In the several debates upon this impeachment it must be confessed that his Majesty gave many marks of his great lenity, often urging the services you had done him and endeavoring to extenuate your crimes. The treasurer and admiral insisted that you should be put to the most painful and ignominious death, by setting fire to your house at night, and the general was to attend with twenty thousand men armed with poisoned arrows, to shoot you on the face and hands. Some of your servants were to have private orders to strew a poisonous juice in your shirts and sheets, which would soon make you tear your own flesh and die in the utmost torture. The general came into the same opinion; so that for a long time there was a majority against you; but his Majesty, resolving, if possible, to spare your life, at last brought off the chamberlain.
“Upon this incident, Reldresal, principal secretary for private affairs, who always approved himself your true friend, was commanded by the Emperor to deliver his opinion, which he accordingly did; and therein justified the good thoughts you have of him. He allowed your crimes to be great, but that still there was room for mercy, the most commendable virtue in a Prince, and for which his Majesty was so justly celebrated. He said the friendship between you and him was so well known to the world that perhaps the most honorable board might think him partial. However, in obedience to the command he had received, he would freely offer his sentiments. That if his Majesty, in consideration of your services, and pursuant to his own merciful disposition, would please to spare your life, and only give order to put out both your eyes, he humbly conceived that, by this expedient, justice might in some measure be satisfied, and all the world would applaud the lenity of the Emperor as well as the fair and generous proceedings of those who have the honor to be his counselors. That the loss of your eyes would be no impediment to your bodily strength, by which you might still be useful to his Majesty. That blindness is an addition to courage, by concealing dangers from us; that the fear you had for your eyes was the greatest difficulty in bringing over the enemy's fleet, and it would be sufficient for you to see by the eyes of the ministers, since the greatest Princes do no more.
“This proposal was received with the utmost disapprobation by the whole board. Bolgolam, the admiral, could not preserve his temper; but, rising up in fury, said he wondered how the secretary durst presume to give his opinion for preserving the life of a traitor; that the services you had performed were, by all true reasons of state, the great aggravation of your crimes; that you, who were able to extinguish the fire by discharge of urine in her majesty's apartment (which he mentioned with horror), might, at another time, raise an inundation by the same means, to drown the whole place; that the same strength which enabled you to bring over the enemy's fleet might serve, upon the first discontent, to carry it back; that he had good reasons to think you were a Big-endian in your heart, and as treason begins in the heart before it appears in overt acts, so he accused you as a traitor on that account, and therefore insisted you should be put to death she having borne perpetual malice against you, on account of that infamous and illegal method you took to extinguish the fire in her apartment.
“The treasurer was of the same opinion. He showed to what straits his Majesty's revenue was reduced by the charge of maintaining you, which would soon grow insupportable; that the secretary's expedient of putting out your eyes was so far from being a remedy against this evil, it would probably increase it, as it is manifest from the common practice of blinding some kind of fowl, after which they fed the faster and grew sooner fat; that his Sacred Majesty and the council, who are your judges, were in their own consciences fully convinced of your guilt, which was a sufficient argument to condemn you to death without the formal proofs required by the strict letter of the law.
“But his Imperial Majesty, fully determined against capital punishment, was graciously pleased to say that, since the council thought the loss of your eyes too easy a censure, some other may be inflicted hereafter. And your friend, the secretary, humbly desiring to be heard again, in answer to what the treasurer had objected concerning the great charge his Majesty was at in maintaining you, said that his Excellency, who had the sole disposal of the Emperor's revenue, might easily provide against that evil by gradually lessening your establishment, by which, for want of sufficient food, you would grow weak and faint and lose your appetite, and consume in a few months; neither would the stench of your carcass be then so dangerous, when it should become more than half diminished; and immediately upon your death five or six thousand of his Majesty's subjects might, in two or three days, cut your flesh from your bones, take it away by cart-loads, and bury it in distant parts to prevent infection, leaving the skeleton as a monument of admiration to posterity.
“Thus, by the great friendship of the secretary, the whole affair was compromised. It was strictly enjoined that the project of starving you by degrees should be kept a secret; but the sentence of putting out your eyes was entered on the books; none dissenting, except Bolgolam, the admiral, who, being a creature of the Empress, was perpetually instigated by her Majesty to insist upon your death.
“In three days your friend, the secretary, will be directed to come to your house and read before you the articles of impeachment, and then to signify the great lenity and favor of his Majesty and council, whereby you are only condemned to the loss of your eyes, which his Majesty doth not question you will gratefully and humbly submit to; and twenty of his Majesty's surgeons will attend, in order to see the operation well performed, by discharging very sharp-pointed arrows into the balls of your eyes, as you lie on the ground.
“I leave to your prudence what measures you will take; and, to avoid suspicion, I must immediately return in as private manner as I came.”
His lordship did so, and I remained alone, under many doubts and perplexities of mind.
It was a custom introduced by this Prince and his ministry (very different, as I have been assured, from the practices of former times) that after the court had decreed any cruel execution, either to gratify the monarch's resentment, or the malice of a favorite, the Emperor always made a speech to his whole council, expressing his great lenity and tenderness as qualities known and confessed by all the world. This speech was immediately published through the kingdom; nor did anything terrify the people so much as those encomiums on his Majesty's mercy, because it was observed that the more these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the punishment and the sufferer more innocent. And, as to myself, I must confess, having never been designed for a courtier, either by my birth or education, I was so ill a judge of things that I could not discover the lenity and favor of this sentence, but conceived it (perhaps erroneously) rather to be rigorous than gentle. I sometimes thought of standing my trial, for, although I could not deny the facts alleged in the several articles, yet I hoped they would admit of some extenuation. But having in my life perused many state trials, which I ever observed to terminate as the judges thought fit to direct, I durst not rely on so dangerous a decision in so critical a juncture and against such powerful enemies. Once I was strongly bent upon resistance, for while I had liberty the whole strength of that empire could hardly subdue me and I might easily with stones pelt the metropolis to pieces; but I soon rejected that project with horror, by remembering the oath I had made to the Emperor, the favors I received from him, and the high title of nardac he conferred upon me. Neither had I so soon learned the gratitude of courtiers to persuade myself that his Majesty's present severities acquitted me of all past obligations.
At last I fixed upon a resolution for which it is probable I may incur some censure, and not unjustly; for I confess I owe the preserving my eyes, and consequently my liberty, to my own great rashness and want of experience; because if I had then known the nature of Princes and ministers, which I have since observed in many other courts, and their methods of treating criminals less obnoxious than myself, I should with great alacrity and readiness have submitted to so easy a punishment. But hurried on by the precipitancy of youth, and having his Imperial Majesty's license to pay my attendance upon the Emperor of Blefuscu, I took this opportunity, before the three days were elapsed, to send a letter to my friend the secretary, signifying my resolution of setting out that morning for Blefuscu, pursuant to the leave I had got; and without waiting for an answer I went to that side of the island where our fleet lay. I seized a large man of war, tied a cable to the prow, and, lifting up the anchors, I stripped myself, put my clothes (together with my coverlet, which I brought under my arm) into the vessel, and, drawing it after me, between wading and swimming, arrived at the royal port of Blefuscu, where the people had long expected me; they lent me two guides to direct me to the capital city, which is of the same name. I held them in my hands till I came within two hundred yards of the gate, and desired them to signify my arrival to one of the secretaries, and let him know I there waited his Majesty's command. I had an answer in about an hour that his Majesty, attended by the royal family and great officers of the court, was coming out to receive me. I advanced a hundred yards. The Emperor and his train alighted from their horses, the Empress and ladies from their coaches, and I did not perceive they were in any fright or concern. I lay on the ground to kiss his Majesty's and the Empress's hands. I told his Majesty that I was come according to my promise, and with the license of the Emperor my master, to have the honor of seeing so mighty a monarch, and to offer him any service in my power consistent with my duty to my own Prince; not mentioning a word of my disgrace, because I had hitherto no regular information of it, and might suppose myself wholly ignorant of any such design; neither could I reasonably conceive that the Emperor would discover the secret while I was out of his power, wherein, however, it soon appeared I was deceived.
I shall not trouble the reader with the particular account of my reception at this court, which was suitable to the generosity of so great a Prince; nor of the difficulties I was in for want of a house and bed, being forced to lie on the ground wrapped up in my coverlet.
The Author, being informed of a design to accuse him of high treason, makes his escape to Blefuscu. His reception there.
— Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
Note again Swift’s humorous way of calling attention to the ridiculousness and the irrational basis of war. The Lilliputian government sees Gulliver as a traitor for not wanting to “destroy the liberties and lives of innocent people.” Here, Swift uses an indisputably reasonable example to highlight this nonsensical government, which is characteristic of the genre of satire.
— Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
Swift furthers the theme that truth is subjective, and he uses it to explore the problems that arise when motive meets law. Gulliver’s motives were noble: to put out the fire at any cost. However, Lilliputian law does not recognize intent, except when it is assumed that the intent was malicious.The truth depends on perspective, but the government behaves as though it is objective.
— Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
Swift satirizes legal policy by creating a glaring contrast between the pretentious language of Lilliputian officials and their ludicrous accusations. People in power use elevated language to justify outrageous capital punishment unfitting for the crime in question.
— Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
The fact that the Lilliputians consider putting out Gulliver’s eyes to be a “merciful” punishment is laughable. By creating an exaggerated punishment for his “crime” and emphasizing the government’s assertion that they are granting him clemency via this punishment, Swift illustrates the absurdity, and arbitrary nature, of laws.
— Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
Although the Lilliputian government values honesty and disclosure, they have secretly been planning a punishment for Gulliver’s “treason.” If it were not for this citizen’s integrity, Gulliver would have been caught by utter surprise. Swift thus points out the theme of the hypocrisy of government. Leaders preach candor to their subjects, but they do not hold themselves to the same standard.
— Stephen Holliday
This is a very harsh criticism of George I and his court: the life of a British citizen depended upon the whim of the monarch or one of his ministers. Swift was appalled at the callousness of the government's treatment of those who were not in favor.
— Stephen Holliday
An allusion to the punishment of Samson in the Bible, who was blinded so that he could not see, but the blindness did not keep him from using his tremendous strength.
— Stephen Holliday
Swift is alluding to the death of Hercules, who put on a poisoned cloak and died in agony.