The Scientific Background of Swift’s ‘Voyage to Laputa’

  • Marjorie Nicolson
  • Nora M. Mohler


Among the travels of Gulliver, the ‘Voyage to Laputa’ has been most criticized and least understood. There is general agreement that in interest and literary merit it falls short of the first two voyages. It is marked by multiplicity of themes; it is episodic in character. In its reflections upon life and humanity, it lacks the philosophic intuition of the voyages to Lilliput and Brobdingnag and the power of the violent and savage attacks upon mankind in the ‘Voyage to the Houyhnhnms’. Any reader sensitive to literary values must so far agree with the critics who disparage the tale. But another criticism as constantly brought against the ‘Voyage to Laputa’ cannot be so readily dismissed. Professor W. A. Eddy, one of the chief authorities upon the sources of Gulliver’s Travels, has implied the usual point of view when he writes:

There seems to be no motive for the story beyond a pointless and not too artfully contrived satire on mathematicians. … For this attack on theoretical science I can find no literary source or analogue, and conclude that it must have been inspired by one of Swift’s literary ideocyncracies [sic]. Attempts have been made to detect allusions to the work of Newton and other contemporary scientists, but these, however successful, cannot greatly increase for us the slight importance of the satire on Laputa.1


Royal Society Seventeenth Century Philosophical Transaction Scientific Background Lunatic Asylum 
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© Macmillan & Co. Ltd. 1967

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marjorie Nicolson
  • Nora M. Mohler

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