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Gulliver's Travels, a novel by Jonathan Swift


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[The Luggnaggians commended. A particular description of the
Struldbrugs, with many conversations between the author and some
eminent persons upon that subject.]

The Luggnaggians are a polite and generous people; and although
they are not without some share of that pride which is peculiar to
all Eastern countries, yet they show themselves courteous to
strangers, especially such who are countenanced by the court. I
had many acquaintance, and among persons of the best fashion; and
being always attended by my interpreter, the conversation we had
was not disagreeable.

One day, in much good company, I was asked by a person of quality,
"whether I had seen any of their struldbrugs, or immortals?" I
said, "I had not;" and desired he would explain to me "what he
meant by such an appellation, applied to a mortal creature." He
told me "that sometimes, though very rarely, a child happened to be
born in a family, with a red circular spot in the forehead,
directly over the left eyebrow, which was an infallible mark that
it should never die." The spot, as he described it, "was about the
compass of a silver threepence, but in the course of time grew
larger, and changed its colour; for at twelve years old it became
green, so continued till five and twenty, then turned to a deep
blue: at five and forty it grew coal black, and as large as an
English shilling; but never admitted any further alteration." He
said, "these births were so rare, that he did not believe there
could be above eleven hundred struldbrugs, of both sexes, in the
whole kingdom; of which he computed about fifty in the metropolis,
and, among the rest, a young girl born; about three years ago:
that these productions were not peculiar to any family, but a mere
effect of chance; and the children of the struldbrugs themselves
were equally mortal with the rest of the people."

I freely own myself to have been struck with inexpressible delight,
upon hearing this account: and the person who gave it me happening
to understand the Balnibarbian language, which I spoke very well, I
could not forbear breaking out into expressions, perhaps a little
too extravagant. I cried out, as in a rapture, "Happy nation,
where every child hath at least a chance for being immortal! Happy
people, who enjoy so many living examples of ancient virtue, and
have masters ready to instruct them in the wisdom of all former
ages! but happiest, beyond all comparison, are those excellent
struldbrugs, who, being born exempt from that universal calamity of
human nature, have their minds free and disengaged, without the
weight and depression of spirits caused by the continual
apprehensions of death!" I discovered my admiration that I had not
observed any of these illustrious persons at court; the black spot
on the forehead being so remarkable a distinction, that I could not
have easily overlooked it: and it was impossible that his majesty,
a most judicious prince, should not provide himself with a good
number of such wise and able counsellors. Yet perhaps the virtue
of those reverend sages was too strict for the corrupt and
libertine manners of a court: and we often find by experience,
that young men are too opinionated and volatile to be guided by the
sober dictates of their seniors. However, since the king was
pleased to allow me access to his royal person, I was resolved,
upon the very first occasion, to deliver my opinion to him on this
matter freely and at large, by the help of my interpreter; and
whether he would please to take my advice or not, yet in one thing
I was determined, that his majesty having frequently offered me an
establishment in this country, I would, with great thankfulness,
accept the favour, and pass my life here in the conversation of
those superior beings the struldbrugs, if they would please to
admit me."

The gentleman to whom I addressed my discourse, because (as I have
already observed) he spoke the language of Balnibarbi, said to me,
with a sort of a smile which usually arises from pity to the
ignorant, "that he was glad of any occasion to keep me among them,
and desired my permission to explain to the company what I had
spoke." He did so, and they talked together for some time in their
own language, whereof I understood not a syllable, neither could I
observe by their countenances, what impression my discourse had
made on them. After a short silence, the same person told me,
"that his friends and mine (so he thought fit to express himself)
were very much pleased with the judicious remarks I had made on the
great happiness and advantages of immortal life, and they were
desirous to know, in a particular manner, what scheme of living I
should have formed to myself, if it had fallen to my lot to have
been born a struldbrug."

I answered, "it was easy to be eloquent on so copious and
delightful a subject, especially to me, who had been often apt to
amuse myself with visions of what I should do, if I were a king, a
general, or a great lord: and upon this very case, I had
frequently run over the whole system how I should employ myself,
and pass the time, if I were sure to live for ever.

"That, if it had been my good fortune to come into the world a
struldbrug, as soon as I could discover my own happiness, by
understanding the difference between life and death, I would first
resolve, by all arts and methods, whatsoever, to procure myself
riches. In the pursuit of which, by thrift and management, I might
reasonably expect, in about two hundred years, to be the wealthiest
man in the kingdom. In the second place, I would, from my earliest
youth, apply myself to the study of arts and sciences, by which I
should arrive in time to excel all others in learning. Lastly, I
would carefully record every action and event of consequence, that
happened in the public, impartially draw the characters of the
several successions of princes and great ministers of state, with
my own observations on every point. I would exactly set down the
several changes in customs, language, fashions of dress, diet, and
diversions. By all which acquirements, I should be a living
treasure of knowledge and wisdom, and certainly become the oracle
of the nation.

"I would never marry after threescore, but live in a hospitable
manner, yet still on the saving side. I would entertain myself in
forming and directing the minds of hopeful young men, by convincing
them, from my own remembrance, experience, and observation,
fortified by numerous examples, of the usefulness of virtue in
public and private life. But my choice and constant companions
should be a set of my own immortal brotherhood; among whom, I would
elect a dozen from the most ancient, down to my own contemporaries.
Where any of these wanted fortunes, I would provide them with
convenient lodges round my own estate, and have some of them always
at my table; only mingling a few of the most valuable among you
mortals, whom length of time would harden me to lose with little or
no reluctance, and treat your posterity after the same manner; just
as a man diverts himself with the annual succession of pinks and
tulips in his garden, without regretting the loss of those which
withered the preceding year.

"These struldbrugs and I would mutually communicate our
observations and memorials, through the course of time; remark the
several gradations by which corruption steals into the world, and
oppose it in every step, by giving perpetual warning and
instruction to mankind; which, added to the strong influence of our
own example, would probably prevent that continual degeneracy of
human nature so justly complained of in all ages.

"Add to this, the pleasure of seeing the various revolutions of
states and empires; the changes in the lower and upper world;
ancient cities in ruins, and obscure villages become the seats of
kings; famous rivers lessening into shallow brooks; the ocean
leaving one coast dry, and overwhelming another; the discovery of
many countries yet unknown; barbarity overrunning the politest
nations, and the most barbarous become civilized. I should then
see the discovery of the longitude, the perpetual motion, the
universal medicine, and many other great inventions, brought to the
utmost perfection.

"What wonderful discoveries should we make in astronomy, by
outliving and confirming our own predictions; by observing the
progress and return of comets, with the changes of motion in the
sun, moon, and stars!"

I enlarged upon many other topics, which the natural desire of
endless life, and sublunary happiness, could easily furnish me
with. When I had ended, and the sum of my discourse had been
interpreted, as before, to the rest of the company, there was a
good deal of talk among them in the language of the country, not
without some laughter at my expense. At last, the same gentleman
who had been my interpreter, said, "he was desired by the rest to
set me right in a few mistakes, which I had fallen into through the
common imbecility of human nature, and upon that allowance was less
answerable for them. That this breed of struldbrugs was peculiar
to their country, for there were no such people either in
Balnibarbi or Japan, where he had the honour to be ambassador from
his majesty, and found the natives in both those kingdoms very hard
to believe that the fact was possible: and it appeared from my
astonishment when he first mentioned the matter to me, that I
received it as a thing wholly new, and scarcely to be credited.
That in the two kingdoms above mentioned, where, during his
residence, he had conversed very much, he observed long life to be
the universal desire and wish of mankind. That whoever had one
foot in the grave was sure to hold back the other as strongly as he
could. That the oldest had still hopes of living one day longer,
and looked on death as the greatest evil, from which nature always
prompted him to retreat. Only in this island of Luggnagg the
appetite for living was not so eager, from the continual example of
the struldbrugs before their eyes.

"That the system of living contrived by me, was unreasonable and
unjust; because it supposed a perpetuity of youth, health, and
vigour, which no man could be so foolish to hope, however
extravagant he may be in his wishes. That the question therefore
was not, whether a man would choose to be always in the prime of
youth, attended with prosperity and health; but how he would pass a
perpetual life under all the usual disadvantages which old age
brings along with it. For although few men will avow their desires
of being immortal, upon such hard conditions, yet in the two
kingdoms before mentioned, of Balnibarbi and Japan, he observed
that every man desired to put off death some time longer, let it
approach ever so late: and he rarely heard of any man who died
willingly, except he were incited by the extremity of grief or
torture. And he appealed to me, whether in those countries I had
travelled, as well as my own, I had not observed the same general

After this preface, he gave me a particular account of the
struldbrugs among them. He said, "they commonly acted like mortals
till about thirty years old; after which, by degrees, they grew
melancholy and dejected, increasing in both till they came to
fourscore. This he learned from their own confession: for
otherwise, there not being above two or three of that species born
in an age, they were too few to form a general observation by.
When they came to fourscore years, which is reckoned the extremity
of living in this country, they had not only all the follies and
infirmities of other old men, but many more which arose from the
dreadful prospect of never dying. They were not only opinionative,
peevish, covetous, morose, vain, talkative, but incapable of
friendship, and dead to all natural affection, which never
descended below their grandchildren. Envy and impotent desires are
their prevailing passions. But those objects against which their
envy seems principally directed, are the vices of the younger sort
and the deaths of the old. By reflecting on the former, they find
themselves cut off from all possibility of pleasure; and whenever
they see a funeral, they lament and repine that others have gone to
a harbour of rest to which they themselves never can hope to
arrive. They have no remembrance of anything but what they learned
and observed in their youth and middle-age, and even that is very
imperfect; and for the truth or particulars of any fact, it is
safer to depend on common tradition, than upon their best
recollections. The least miserable among them appear to be those
who turn to dotage, and entirely lose their memories; these meet
with more pity and assistance, because they want many bad qualities
which abound in others.

"If a struldbrug happen to marry one of his own kind, the marriage
is dissolved of course, by the courtesy of the kingdom, as soon as
the younger of the two comes to be fourscore; for the law thinks it
a reasonable indulgence, that those who are condemned, without any
fault of their own, to a perpetual continuance in the world, should
not have their misery doubled by the load of a wife.

"As soon as they have completed the term of eighty years, they are
looked on as dead in law; their heirs immediately succeed to their
estates; only a small pittance is reserved for their support; and
the poor ones are maintained at the public charge. After that
period, they are held incapable of any employment of trust or
profit; they cannot purchase lands, or take leases; neither are
they allowed to be witnesses in any cause, either civil or
criminal, not even for the decision of meers and bounds.

"At ninety, they lose their teeth and hair; they have at that age
no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get,
without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to
still continue, without increasing or diminishing. In talking,
they forget the common appellation of things, and the names of
persons, even of those who are their nearest friends and relations.
For the same reason, they never can amuse themselves with reading,
because their memory will not serve to carry them from the
beginning of a sentence to the end; and by this defect, they are
deprived of the only entertainment whereof they might otherwise be

The language of this country being always upon the flux, the
struldbrugs of one age do not understand those of another; neither
are they able, after two hundred years, to hold any conversation
(farther than by a few general words) with their neighbours the
mortals; and thus they lie under the disadvantage of living like
foreigners in their own country."

This was the account given me of the struldbrugs, as near as I can
remember. I afterwards saw five or six of different ages, the
youngest not above two hundred years old, who were brought to me at
several times by some of my friends; but although they were told,
"that I was a great traveller, and had seen all the world," they
had not the least curiosity to ask me a question; only desired "I
would give them slumskudask," or a token of remembrance; which is a
modest way of begging, to avoid the law, that strictly forbids it,
because they are provided for by the public, although indeed with a
very scanty allowance.

They are despised and hated by all sorts of people. When one of
them is born, it is reckoned ominous, and their birth is recorded
very particularly so that you may know their age by consulting the
register, which, however, has not been kept above a thousand years
past, or at least has been destroyed by time or public
disturbances. But the usual way of computing how old they are, is
by asking them what kings or great persons they can remember, and
then consulting history; for infallibly the last prince in their
mind did not begin his reign after they were fourscore years old.

They were the most mortifying sight I ever beheld; and the women
more horrible than the men. Besides the usual deformities in
extreme old age, they acquired an additional ghastliness, in
proportion to their number of years, which is not to be described;
and among half a dozen, I soon distinguished which was the eldest,
although there was not above a century or two between them.

The reader will easily believe, that from what I had hear and seen,
my keen appetite for perpetuity of life was much abated. I grew
heartily ashamed of the pleasing visions I had formed; and thought
no tyrant could invent a death into which I would not run with
pleasure, from such a life. The king heard of all that had passed
between me and my friends upon this occasion, and rallied me very
pleasantly; wishing I could send a couple of struldbrugs to my own
country, to arm our people against the fear of death; but this, it
seems, is forbidden by the fundamental laws of the kingdom, or else
I should have been well content with the trouble and expense of
transporting them.

I could not but agree, that the laws of this kingdom relative to
the struldbrugs were founded upon the strongest reasons, and such
as any other country would be under the necessity of enacting, in
the like circumstances. Otherwise, as avarice is the necessary
consequence of old age, those immortals would in time become
proprietors of the whole nation, and engross the civil power,
which, for want of abilities to manage, must end in the ruin of the





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